Childhood coach Aswalkar looks up to SKY for more

Suryakumar Yadav’s childhood coach, Ashok Aswalkar, talks about his bond with the superstar, and how he helped the 33-year-old get back on his feet after disappointments. 
Suryakumar Yadav with coach Ashok Aswalkar
Suryakumar Yadav with coach Ashok Aswalkar

MUMBAI: On Thursday, Suryakumar Yadav will be walking onto the field at the Wankhede, his home ground, to take on New Zealand in a World Cup semifinal match. A few kilometers away, Suryakumar’s childhood coach Ashok Aswalkar will be watching his ward on the television swelling with pride. It is not something new.

In fact, Aswalkar hasn’t watched Suryakumar someone he groomed from his earliest days in Chembur performing at an international game from the stands at any venue. It is not that he can not manage to enter a stadium but he has made a conscious decision to sit in front of a TV set. “I don’t like watching from the stadium,” Aswalkar laughs, adding, “As a coach, I listen to experts and keep an eye on the bowling, fielding, and of course, the analyse.”

Photo: AP
Photo: AP

Every time Suryakumar is on TV, playing for India, the coach will have watch every move of his ward on television minutely. And he enjoys doing so. Whenever Suryakumar makes a mistake or plays a bad shot, he would immediately drop a WhatsApp message. Aswalkar knows that at the highest level, there is very little left for him to teach. “All you have to do is adapt and he is very smart. If he plays a bad shot, I will immediately send him a message. And he replies to me after he sees in the night. Whatever things I tell him, he picks it up quickly and understands it. Next game, you can see the difference,” says Aswalkar.

Picking up things early is something that Suryakumar has done from a very young age. And it was crucial in his growth as he wasn't among those kids who were anointed as ‘the next big thing’ in Mumbai cricket. There are far too many big things, including India captain Rohit Sharma, but Suryakumar wasn’t one of them. Aswalkar says as much. “There were many who were playing at the same level as he was. Even Suryakumar himself has said how so many who played alongside him are better. But his body language was different,” he says.

Even as he made his strides in domestic cricket, Suryakumar had to wait for recognition. He was among the prolific T20 batters, especially after 2018, but the India call-up was not coming soon. In 2020, he was going through a purple patch as Mumbai Indians won their fifth IPL title, yet the wait continued.

Eventually, the pressure of not getting picked for India got into him. Aswalkar remembers one morning when Surya came to him while he was going through his routine as a curator. “The media was after him and I had to make him mentally strong," he says. "For 15 days, I had to control his frustration. I kept telling him to focus on his fitness and tell the media politely that you will call back when you get selected. I told him his time will come soon."

Shortly after the Australia tour, it did for the home series against England in February 2021. Since then, the Mumbaikar has not looked back. The ability and talent that Aswalkar has seen and known was unleashed. Within a year he was the best T20I batter in the world. The city of dreams, which has produced some of the greatest cricketers for the country, has three of their own in this World Cup XI (Sharma and Shreyas Iyer). Yet, in the last few year, it was Suryakumar who had won the streets with his audacious strokeplay and rubber wrists.

The ODI and Test call-up came along, but success did not kiss him immediately in the 50-over format. Earlier this year, he got out for three consecutive ducks in ODIs, and once again Aswalkar was egging him on. ”He had to do little adjustments from T20Is to one-dayers. I told him to give himself two-three innings and you will know how to approach and focus on the game and everything will work out. I told him to focus on singles and doubles and play in the ‘V’ and runs will come automatically. In the Australia series (before the World Cup), he did well. And he was a part of the World Cup.”

At the global event, too, Surya had to wait for his chance. Once Hardik Pandya got injured, he became the designated enforcer at No. 6. Which means, his role has become very similar to what he does in the T20Is. To watch him play for India in a home World Cup is a matter of pride for Aswalkar. “It was our dream. When I saw what he could become and how far he could go, our dreams have come true. Whatever I have predicted for him has not failed. It has worked. And the result is there is to see,” he says.

Aswalkar will not be at the Wankhede on Thursday, but should India advance to the final, he might be going to Ahmedabad and see Suryakumar play for India from the ground for the first time. “Let’s see. If I get a chance, I might, if not will watch it from house on TV,” Aswalkar signs off.

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