Yuzvendra Chahal dangles his signature slow, full legbreak that has bested several big-hitters in international cricket and the Universe Boss Chris Gayle at the Royal Challengers Bangalore nets. Ishan Kishan has just fallen to this delivery on Wednesday. He steps out, but is beaten in flight, and the dip creates distance between the bat and the pitch of the ball, resulting in a toe-ended catch to long-on. Chahal now tempts Suryakumar Yadav by lobbing a slower, fuller legbreak that probably finishes on a set of stumps outside off. Yadav collapses his back knee to manufacture more swinging room, plants his front leg to get closer to the pitch of the ball, and nonchalantly drives it over extra-cover for six.
Then when Dale Steyn hits a hard length at 144kph, Yadav stands tall and precisely places a back-foot drive to the left of extra-cover and right of sweeper cover. After scooping up the Man-of-the-Match award, Yadav would pick these two shots as the ones that stood out during his unbeaten match-winning 79 off 43 balls.
There were many other special shots as well. Like that battering ram of a sweep off Chahal. Like that deft late-cut off Steyn. Like that defensive push off Mohammed Siraj that skipped away past mid-off and extra-cover. Like that wristy flick off Chris Morris. Like that ramped six over fine leg and into the RCB dug out off Steyn.
Yadav is showing his range. Showing how to ace a tricky T20 chase. Showing Mumbai the way towards the playoffs. Showing the selectors, who had ignored him in India's white-ball squads for the Australia tour, that he belongs to the highest level.
Sure, India's T20I middle order is packed, but Yadav brings with him the versatility that the team could well do with. He can build an innings, he can go after the bowlers from the get-go. Over the years, he has been a designated finisher for Kolkata Knight Riders. On Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Yadav not only built the chase after the early blows, he manipulated the middle overs, and finished it.
Yadav had come into bat in the last over of the powerplay when the asking rate was 8.5. With Washington Sundar bowling into the pitch and attacking the stumps, like he often does, Yadav smartly saw him off. By the time Sundar (4-0-20-0) was done, the asking rate had crept towards 10. Yadav took a calculated risk and swept Chahal into the shorter leg-side boundary for a pair of fours.
Krunal Pandya went at a run a ball, Saurabh Tiwary went at less than a run a ball, Siraj and Chahal got the cross-seamers and slower balls to hold in the pitch, but Yadav kept finding the boundary.
Yadav has bossed the middle overs this IPL, striking at 144.73. Among batsmen who have faced at least 120 balls in this phase this season, only Sanju Samson, Nicholas Pooran, and Shikhar Dhawan have better strike rates than Yadav. Kohli and Iyer have struck at only 107.08 and 125.12 respectively. As for Manish Pandey, another middle-order candidate on the flight to Australia, he has made 183 runs at a strike rate lesser than that of both Kohli and Iyer - 107.01.
While Kohli has managed to crank up the tempo in the slog overs on some occasions, having too many anchors in the middle order could ramp up the pressure on your finisher. Yadav's daring approach in the middle overs on Wednesday meant that Mumbai's designated finishers Hardik Pandya and Kieron Pollard had only little to do. That daring approach could ease the pressure on Pandya in India's T20I side as well, but the national selectors have decided against shaking up the middle order for the upcoming Australia tour.
While Yadav didn't bring up the non-selection, Pollard did touch upon it at the post-match presentation. "Deep down inside, he must be very disappointed not getting to don the blue for India but I'm sure he's very, very close, I'm sure," Pollard told host broadcaster Star Sports.
"He's done some amazing things for us as a franchise, and the most he can do is continue to let the bat talk and score more runs for us and take us all the way. To me, he just keeps getting better. If he continues to be this consistent then at some point in time, you are going to get rewarded. Nothing happens before its time, and long may it continue for us as a franchise."
Yadav closed out the game with a gesture towards the Mumbai dugout, suggesting: "Don't worry, I've got this". It might only be a matter of time before he does the same in India colours.