Ranked No. 2 in T20 rankings, Surya‘s shot-making is explosive, while Rizwan and Babar, ranked No. 1 and 3 respectively, play more conventional shots
The build-up to the ICC cricket World Cups in the recent past has revolved around the many plots and sub-plots surrounding an India-Pakistan clash. Among the many interesting sub-plots, Sunday’s India-Pakistan contest at the MCG is a battle for supremacy among the top three batters in T20 internationals – Mohammad Rizwan, Suryakumar Yadav and Pakistan skipper Babar Azam.

While Rizwan and Azam occupy the first and third spots in the ICC T20 rankings, sandwiched between the two Pak batters is India’s Suryakumar at the No. 2 spot.
Skipper Rohit Sharma has singled him out as India’s X-factor for the World Cup. Former South African skipper Dale Steyn calls him India’s version of AB de Villiers. In a batting line-up that boasts of Virat Kohli, Rohit himself and KL Rahul, Suryakumar has not only created a niche for himself in the middle-order but has transformed into India’s new batting sensation.

However, the bat which Suryakumar uses like a wand at the crease against his rivals has not been able to conjure up the same magic against Pakistan. His returns have been modest – 11, 18 and 13 – on the three occasions the Mumbaikar has batted against India’s arch-rivals on the slow pitches of Dubai.
Sunday’s clash at the MCG offers Suryakumar the perfect opportunity to set that record straight. The biggest test for Suryakumar would be adapting to the conditions of Australia. The 32-year-old has already shown that he is game for the challenge by slamming two half-centuries in the warm-up matches in the lead-up to the World Cup.


“Playing in Australia shouldn’t bother him too much as he likes the ball coming on to the bat. The size of the grounds will be bigger, but Surya has the confidence and ability to clear those boundaries,” said former India wicketkeeper-batsman Chandrakant Pandit, who has seen Surya’s rise from close quarters as ex-coach of Mumbai.
Though Pakistan rely on the pacers for early wickets, they depend on spin to stifle the run flow in the middle overs. And it’s here that Surya has a crucial role to play. His ability to be aggressive against both pace and spin means the longer he stays at the crease, the better India’s run rate will be.


Improvisation is the key to Surya’s gameplan and Pandit feels all the Pakistani bowlers will be wary of him. “The biggest quality about Surya is his fearless approach. He isn’t bothered about the bowlers’ reputation but is more concerned about how well he can execute a shot against each delivery. The big improvement I have noticed in Surya’s batting of late is that he has now expanded his range of shots which has made him a more dangerous batter,” said the newly appointed coach of Kolkata Knight Riders.
In sharp contrast to Surya’s unorthodox batting methods is Pakistan’s opening pair of Babar and Rizwan. Even in the T20 format, the duo resort to a more conventional approach and yet have been very effective.


Though Babar is considered as one of the top batters in modern-day cricket, it is Rizwan who has hurt India more, especially in the shortest format. The top run-getter in the T20 format this year, Rizwan has scores of 79 not out, 43 and 71, and a strike rate of 130.40 against India on the previous three occasions. Two of those resulted in Pakistan’s victories.
Along with Rizwan’s unbeaten 79, Babar scored a brilliant 68 to fashion Pakistan’s 10-wicket win over India in the previous edition of the T20 World Cup in Dubai last year. However, the skipper had a forgettable Asia Cup last month and failed twice against Rohit’s men. He has roared back to form since, slamming a century against England recently.


Despite the success they have enjoyed at the top, critics have questioned the lack of intent from the two during the powerplay. “Look, you plan as per the conditions and the target set by the opposition and change your gears accordingly. It depends how you take things as it can go negative or positive. Hence, we always take it positively and try to listen to every player’s point of view in the dressing room without criticism. Our job is to deliver performances and we attempt to do it in a manner that Pakistan wins,” Babar had responded recently to the criticism pointed towards the opening pair.
If the weather holds up in Melbourne on Sunday, it will be interesting to see who among the top three batters in T20 cricket calls the shots in the India-Pakistan contest. Whoever does, he may go a long way in determining the winner of the game.


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By Dipak

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