Suryakumar and Bumrah give India a winning start to the Super Eight


India 181 for 8 (Suryakumar 53, Rashid 3-26, Farooqi 3-33) beat Afghanistan 134 (Omarzai 26, Bumrah 3-7) by 47 runs

There were geniuses at play in Bridgetown, wearing the India blue as they cruised to victory in their first Super Eight game against Afghanistan in the T20 World Cup 2024. The pitch, once again, was tough to bat on: slow and offering purchase to everyone willing to roll their fingers across the ball. Suryakumar Yadav, though, found a way to prosper as he often does in T20 cricket, helping his team post an above-par total of 181 for 7. That brought Jasprit Bumrah into the fray and he immediately set about dismantling Afghanistan, his two early strikes leaving them indisposed for the rest of the chase.

The old guard

Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma did not play a single T20I between the end of the previous World Cup in 2022 and January this year. But they’re here now because they want that medal around their neck. They want to be world champions. And to that end, they’ve been open to batting in a different way. Rohit made only 8 off 13 but he looked to hit a boundary off six of those balls. Kohli was going smoothly but he wasn’t willing to settle for that. He looked to hit Rashid Khan for six and got caught.

After being burned in big matches for being too conservative, India have ditched the safety-first approach. And the reason for that played out in the middle overs of this game. When Kohli fell, ESPNcricinfo’s Forecaster had their total tracking down by 18 runs to 171. In the space of a mere six balls, the other batters had it tracking back up by the same number of runs. India were set to reach 189 now. That’s how quickly a game can change in this format. That’s why it’s better to have tried and failed than not try and all.

Surya on song

It’s possible India knew this all along but were holding back because they weren’t comfortable with the options they had down the order. That’s changed now because their best T20 batter mans the No. 4 position.

Suryakumar played some special shots – not in the way you usually associate with, where he finds a soft spot in the laws of physics and mercilessly pokes holes in them. But more in terms of just knowing his areas and trusting his skill. Even the one time when he made jaws drop to the floor – dragging Azmatullah Omarzai from somewhere off the wide line to the square-leg boundary – he was just trying to put away a full toss. The legside was the shorter boundary. It just made sense.

Suryakumar focused on three things while he was out there. Sweep to mess with the wristspinners. He played four and each of them resulted in a boundary. Smash whenever the quicks went too full. He struck a six that sailed into the three Ws stand and held his pose. Worrell, Weeks and Walcott would’ve loved that. Finally swipe – after making sure to hold his shape – when they went slower ball. First time he tried it, he got beaten. Second time, he nearly hit the ball out of the ground. This was a classic case of an attacking batter paring down his options to just those he knew would succeed in the conditions.

Suryakumar was box office, even without bat in hand. In between the innings, he admitted that he was nervous. “I began chewing my gum harder when Kohli got out.” But he knew he couldn’t let himself be bogged down. “It was important to keep the intent up.” India do not want to fall into the same traps as before. This World Cup, they’re going to bat like they have a full ten wickets to spare.

Bumrah on fire

He has twice as many wickets as he’s conceded boundaries (8 vs 4) in this T20 World Cup. Bumrah is undeniably India’s most important player. He came on to bowl after Rahmanullah Gurbaz had struck a lion’s share of the 13 runs in the first over of the chase. He had seen, in the first innings, that slower balls had been mighty effective (five wickets for 30 runs at an economy rate of 7.2). Immediately, he dialled one up and also shifted his line real wide to deny Gurbaz the straight hit that he likes so much. Assessing the conditions and the opposition to that degree that quickly is the reason why he is an all-format great. He gave away only seven runs, the second-fewest by an Indian bowling four overs in a T20I.

There were further positives as well. Kuldeep Yadav, back in the XI to exploit favourable conditions, picked up 2 for 32. Axar Patel began with a wicket-maiden in the powerplay. Ravindra Jadeja had a good run out as well. And Arshdeep recovered from a two-over spell for 22 runs to almost pick up a hat-trick in the dying moments.

Alagappan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

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