When 82507 people gather at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, it definitely marks an occasion. You often see this in local Australian sports and events, and now we have seen this at a handful international cricket events too.
Sunday night was different, though.
You see, at any of the other sporting events, any composition of the incoming public is split down. Take, for example, when India played Pakistan on October 23. 90,000-plus people attended that magical game, but it wasn’t all a partisan crowd. It was believed to be a 60-40 split amongst the India and Pakistan fans that night, maybe 65-35 if you want to stretch it.
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Sunday marked a special occasion precisely because the split was almost non-existent. For India-Zimbabwe, perhaps there were only handful fans of the African nation present at the MCG. One saw three Zimbabwean flags in the sea of Indian flags, which would amount to a group of 5-6 people. Extrapolate this, and you would get 500-odd Zimbabwean fans, maybe. That still leaves a massive 82000-strong crowd cheering on the Men in Blue.
It was not a singular phenomenon though. Seven years ago, during the 2015 ODI World Cup, something similar transpired at the MCG. There were 86876 people at the big ground that night, and only a small percentage cheered on for the Proteas, with Indian fans making up in excess of 80000 people again. “A Sea of Blue” is the term defined for this unique phenomenon, and it is predominantly noticeable whenever India plays at the MCG in a World Cup.
The big differentiation between these two games, seven years apart, was the opposition and match allocation. That India and South Africa were going to play each other was known; the Proteas aren’t really a small cricketing nation. This time around, India’s opponents for November 6 were unknown. By logical calculation, it ought to have been West Indies. Instead Zimbabwe took that spot.
Unlike in football, club or international, different sections of fans aren’t segregated at a cricketing event. It results in mixed pockets of fans at a cricket game, and that is a brilliant notion. With the opponents not unknown, or of a lesser pedigree, the Indian fans had a clear run at buying these tickets, and they lapped them all up. In a way, it made for wonderment as well – it didn’t really matter who India were playing on the day.
It made for an Indian night at “the G”. Almost as if it were Diwali, the crowd was in a trance, eating, drinking, celebrating and making merry. And of course, there was some cricket too. They came to see just the Men in Blue, its megastars, and their favourites. They came to witness Virat Kohli at his absolute best. They came to see Rohit Sharma regain his touch. They came to see Hardik Pandya and KL Rahul dominate the opposition. They saw all of it, sure, but from one man – Suryakumar Yadav.
Sport, and cricket therein, can be a great leveller. It doesn’t matter who bought how many tickets. It is about context, pressure and conditions, and overcoming all of them, either one at a time or all together. Yes, there were 82000 Indian fans crammed up at the MCG, but it still didn’t take away the fact that India’s great batsmen needed to play as per conditions and form. That Zimbabwe’s bowlers still held enough to restrict this Indian batting line-up, as they had done with Pakistan earlier.
13.3 overs done. 101-4. Rohit, Rahul, Kohli, Pant – all gone. At that stage, India’s run-rate stood at 7.59 with a projected score of 152. It wasn’t going to be good enough. They needed something more, both the team and fans. Enter Suryakumar Yadav, the batter who knows no pressure, doesn’t get overawed by the situation, always bats in one high gear, and continues to push the envelope of performance. Sky can be the limit for some, but not for Yadav.
Give him 20 balls, and he will give you 40 runs. It is maddening how true this holds, innings after innings, for 18-plus months now. This sheer consistency is mind boggling, for the uncomplicated yet unorthodox nature of his shot making. If you bowl straight at him, SKY will get behind the line and smash you. If you bowl wide, he will change his stance and still find another way of smashing you.
Richard Ngarava thought he could escape by bowling on the line, just wide enough to create doubt in Yadav’s mind. Instead, the batter got down on one knee, fetched the ball from six stumps outside off and deposited it 80 metres over square. Then, he repeated this shot in the last over, clearing the fine leg fence with a maddening scoop. Those two shots alone were worth spending hundreds of dollars to get into the MCG on this night.
There is no stopping Yadav, and there is no hiding place for the bowlers. Fielders don’t even come into equation when he is in the mood to hit. And just like that, India had breached 180. 59 runs came off the last four overs, and the crowd went boisterous. It is the astounding facet of Suryakumar Yadav’s gameplay – he just doesn’t let the momentum drop. Other batsmen might look to rotate strike in between boundaries. Yadav goes hunting for more fours and sixes, instead.
Conditions don’t matter to him. In Perth, on a raging, quick wicket, he batted in the same gear as he did in Sydney, or in Adelaide, or in Melbourne on comparatively easier wickets. He batted in the same rhythm, irrespective of early wickets or whether his teammates gave him a base to launch off. When he didn’t click, India struggled against Pakistan and Bangladesh. Ahead of the all-important semi-final, he is the one big hope.
Suryakumar Yadav is the singular most vital – and dangerous – weapon in India’s batting arsenal, and this is an understatement.