'He always had the shots and everyone who saw him knew that he will play for India'
"You can't predict whether Suryakumar Yadav will be successful in Test matches but I can vouch that he will make the effort if he is given a chance," coach Vinayak Mane said, choosing his words carefully.
The one-of-a-kind freak has become the toast of Indian cricket but the method in his madness hasn't yet been fully decoded.
Surya's daredevilry with the willow has made people use four-letter cuss words in disbelief. Watching a few of his shots, many of them have been overwhelmed with awe.
For someone who has become a world No. 1 at 32, Surya has had one helluva journey, with initial lows, some commendable highs, fell down in the pits and then battling odds and perceptions to reach where he is at the moment.
Two people, apart from his immediate family, who have watched this remarkable transformation closely are former Mumbai opener Mane and his longtime state-mate and childhood friend, Sufiyan Sheikh.
Mane had first seen Surya as a precocious 18-year-old, who had in 2009 received a scholarship stipend from Bharat Petroleum (BPCL) for being a talented Mumbai U-19 player.
However, Mane started knowing Surya closely when the cricketer joined Parsee Gymkhana, whose top boss Khodadad S Yazdegardi also took good care of the man.
"I was still playing a bit of cricket and had just started coaching when Surya came to Parsee Gymkhana. He has had some rough time in Mumbai cricket and he was trying to turn the corner. He always had the shots and everyone who saw him knew that he will play for India," Mane, who played 54 first-class games, said.
So how did Surya prepare for the Australian conditions?
"Credit should go to Mr Khodadad who also is fond of Surya. At the Parsee Gymkhana ground, we specially got a hard wicket prepared for his training with a liberal sprinkling of grass."
"One of my students, who is a Mumbai U-23 player, Om Keshkamat, acted as a left-arm side-armer giving throw-downs with the robo-arm. Surya is also fond of Om. I also had all kinds of bowlers giving him a decent practice," Mane said.
Surya, after playing for 20 minutes, would do simulation training.
"It would be different for chasing where targets would be like 28 from 2 overs and if batting first, say 30 runs from powerplay overs 4-6. He would often say, that set me a field and if I get out, I will come out, so that he is in the match mode," Mane recalled.
While the cricket loving public is enamoured by his strokes behind the square and the pick-up shots over deep fine leg but Mane has always seen him play these shots.
"He always had these shots. What he has now developed is even tighter technique. So when he is playing anything hurled onto his body, his head remains very still. If you watch closely, while his backfoot goes across the stumps towards off-side, he maintains the balance as the head points towards extra-cover and the front-foot remains straight," Mane explained.
His friend Sufiyan, who has played Ranji Trophy for Mumbai and the U-19 World Cup in New Zealand in 2010, also highlighted a technical aspect.
"People love width so that they can chance their arms. Surya is opposite. He operates with barest minimum space. So those incredible shots behind the stumps that he pulls off, he is determined that he would make the bowlers bowl onto his body."
"Worst case, he will get hit and that bruise will remind him that he needs to be all the more quicker," Sufiyan said.
He also gave an interesting insight as to how Surya's mind works.
"Obviously, on hard pitches with a lot of bounce, he would wear thigh pads but in Ahmedabad, on his T20I debut against England, he didn't wear a thigh pad. Lot of times on Indian pitches he does that to reduce weight and that helps him run swiftly during two's and three's."
How the snub during Australia tour worked wonders
Sufiyan has known Surya from U-12 days . He lives in the busy Crawford Market area of Mumbai while Surya is a Chembur boy.
"Late 2020, when we were playing Mushtaq Ali T20 after the first wave of COVID-19, he didn't make it for the Australian tour. After our seven days of hard quarantine, I went to his room and it resembled a mini gym. All weight training equipments were there. He had also got ration from home as he wanted to avoid oily hotel food," the keeper said.
But what has stayed with Sufiyan for the longest time is something else.
"On the mirror in his room, on the closet, on the bed-side, everywhere there were India stickers pasted. He would just look and remind himself what his goal is," the friend said.
He believes that it was the right time that Surya got an opportunity to play for India.
"He got it after turning 30. People would say, it is late but he had seen enough disappointments that had toughened him and failure wasn't an option."
"I would give Devisha (wife) a lot of credit for being his pillar of strength. He didn't make it to India U-19 World Cup, was removed from Mumbai captaincy, so now it's time to enjoy the highs," added Sufiyan.
His ability to lift spirits in tough times makes him a lovable person.
"Once I was going through a tough phase and he came and called me while standing below my residence, pulled me out and took me for a long drive to Lonavala. Had dhaba ka khaana and we were back. I felt rejuvenated. He never says, 'yeh nahi hoga', he would always say 'Yeh ho jayega'.
Sufiyan wants to see his best friend in India whites.
"He is marvellous against spinners on Indian tracks. Pick him and he will not play the field but play with the field," he laughed.