How Surya tasted sweet success by giving up brownie with ice-cream

Self-abstinence and hours of sweat saw Mumbai Indian batsman Suryakumar Yadav burn 12 kgs in 3 months and refine his skills. Sandip G counts the ten thousand small steps that the IPL super star took before the decisive India leap.

When the long wait finally ended, emotions kicked in. Mumbai batsman Suryakumar Yadav, his parents, sister and wife broke down during a video call on Zoom, moments after he was picked in India’s T20 squad against England. “I started crying, they started crying too,” he recollects, his voice calmly gathering excitement.

“Those were tears of joy. We badly wanted to see this day. Poora rewind story hua. (I recalled everything) I could see my mother getting up in the morning at 5.30-6.00, preparing breakfast, packing lunch when I come back from training, then dad dropping me at the ground… everything,” he says, pausing, and then adding: “Everything…” He seemed not recounting the emotions, but recreating them.

After the call, Surya wondered if this was all true. “For a long time, it didn’t register. I still felt it was all a dream,” he says. He fleetingly wondered about the lost years, what he could have done if he were picked five years ago. Then he quickly admonished himself to shun the negative thoughts. “Just focus on what I can do now,” he whispered to himself. Now was not the time to brood, but to live in the dream, which he says, “he does not want to get out of.”

Surya’s story has a gripping coming-of-age narrative of desire and determination. It’s the story of ten thousand small steps that went behind the making of one decisive leap. Hours of sweat, thousands of deliveries in nets, days of intense introspection, moments of realisation, tons of sacrifice, an unceasing streak of self-improvement, and beyond it the will to not lose hope even if it sometimes hung like a thin strand of rope.

READ | How Tendulkar’s message changed Suryakumar’s perspective

“The passion and love for the game kept me going. I knew that if I kept ticking the boxes, I will reach my destination someday,” he says.

He never paused, but kept refining his game and himself. For example, during the lockdown he went on an intense fitness regimen wherein he burned 12 kilos in three months. He controlled his cravings for the chocolate brownie with vanilla ice-cream, his favourite dessert, and biryani his mother makes. “In the first few days of the lockdown, I ate almost everything that I saw, sugar, sweets, carbs, and rice. Then this thought struck me, why not use the lockdown to get my body into shape,” he remembers.

Strict diet, doubling exercise

At times, motivation was difficult to find. “For, we didn’t know when the next game would be or how long we would be in lockdown. Aage ka raasta saaf nahin dikhta tha,” (the path ahead wasn’t clear) he says. The road ahead might have been hazy, but Surya was determined to tread.

So after a few days of indulgence, when he ate as much as he could, brownies and biriyani, he went on a period of self-abstinence. “No sugar, no sweets, cut 90 per cent of rice and aata. I quit most high-carb food and switched to rotis from jowar, bajra and ragi with normal daal, sabzi or paneer. I also started working out twice a day. Previously it was five times a week,” he says.

The initial days were arduous. Hunger pangs would strike unannounced and keep stalking him, at times consuming his sleep. “The initial weeks were difficult. I usually have my dinner at 7.30 and sleep at around 10.30-11.00, so I used to feel very hungry at night. I told myself, it’s not easy, but not impossible either,” he says.

But he persisted, like he always has. In 3-4 weeks, the results began to show, and by the time IPL started, he was leaner and lighter. The difference reflected in his game. “I was not feeling tired batting in high-intensity games, I felt fresher when batting after fielding for 20 overs. The recovery time after running between the wickets was quicker, I could move around faster on the field, and even fielded at point a couple of times,” he explains.

In between, he rang up friends to give throw-downs and analysed his knocks of the 2018 and 2019 seasons. “I saw all my innings of 2018 and 2019, and thought what I could have done better. There were a few strokes that I always loved playing like the cover drive, cut, and the chip over covers. I had all the shots already in my bag but I wanted to polish them properly. So during the lockdown, I used to call a few friends and go to the ground and do a lot of drills. Tell them to throw hundreds or 1000s of balls every day. Slow and steady, by the time IPL came I was ready.”

It was as if he wanted to put the best step forward. As if it were his last lease of hope. He details the rationale: “I have missed opportunities to strike the iron when it is hot, when I could have gone one step ahead. But I didn’t.” At 30, he knew the breaks would only dwindle. Seizing the day was not one of the options, but the only one.

And so he did, blasting his second-most productive year (480 runs). Those runs came at his career-best strike-rate (145) and average (40). Not to forget the significance and consequence of some of his knocks—like the unbeaten 79 off 43 balls against Royal Challengers Bangalore, or the 51 in Qualifier 1 against Delhi Capitals. Or the derring-do in reverse-scooping tearaway Jofra Archer after he was pinged on the helmet, or nonchalantly flicking Kagiso Rabada over backward square-leg. Or straddling an assortment of roles—from opening to finishing and stabilising to destroying. Or evolving from a leg-side-heavy batsman to Mr 360. It was the season he morphed from a sidekick to hero, started making telling match-winning contributions more frequently, and stroking all those runs with the dexterity of painter’s lucid brushstrokes.

Light at end of tunnel

It was not a one-off. His numbers in white-ball cricket have been staggering. In 46 IPL games in the last three years, he amassed 1416 runs at an average of 36 and a strike rate of 136. In the same span, in 29 Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy games, he plundered 969 runs at 53.89, striking at around 167 runs per hundred balls. If the doors of selection remained shut, he would barge into the room.

A lot went into his recalibration, beginning with harsh self-assessment at the start of the 2017 season, when he realised that “it was high time I did some smart work to my game, which can help me go one step ahead.” A frank chat with Mumbai Indians coach Mahela Jayawardene before the start of the 2019 season too benefitted, wherein he dwelled on his plummeting strike rate after the powerplay overs. “Just try and hit a lot of gaps, take twos, run hard between wickets and there won’t be any pressure and the strike rate will be amazing,” he advised Surya.

READ | Suryakumar Yadav: The wait that keeps getting longer

By the end of 2019, he was a batsman transformed. But he knew he had to keep improving, for the bowlers “know what you did last year and will come up with plans.” So he kept adding more layers and dimensions to the game so that a bowler cannot easily work him over, as Surya was in IPL 2021.

It was the best he had batted in recent times, yet his wait got only longer. He was overlooked for the Australia tour. Empathy poured from everywhere, including from Sachin Tendulkar, who reproduced the words of his coach Ramakant Achrekar: “If you are honest and sincere to the game, the game will look after you.”

There was also deafening noise on why he was repeatedly snubbed. Surya shut himself from the clatter. And consoled himself: “I’ll try and do what I can do. I have opportunities coming my way and I just need to score runs. And whenever the time is right, it will come,” he says.

The time and stars finally aligned. A dream the Yadav household had collectively dreamt, was finally fulfilled. And then rolled on the tears of joy.

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