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Washington Sundar announces himself on the big stage

Washington Sundar has done a great job of filling into senior statesman Ashwin's shoes this year bowling tight spells, especially with the new ball.

Washington Sundar of Rising Pune Supergiant
Washington Sundar of Rising Pune Supergiant celebrates. (Photo: IANS)

Washington Sundar was picked to replace Ravi Ashwin in the Rising Pune Supergiant squad as the latter had to skip IPL 2017 due to an injury. Sundar, all of just 17, had not played a single T20 game in his young career. Like Ashwin, Sundar too hails from Tamil Nadu. The teenager had played just 5 first-class games and 9 List A games and was now set to make his IPL debut; the third youngest player. How he was supposed to replace someone like Ashwin, people wondered.

Nobody had envisaged that Sundar will be bowling RPS to a win in the Qualifier. His 3/16 against heavyweights Mumbai Indians earned him a Man of the Match and to Pune, a maiden spot in the finals. Sundar’s fast off-spinners got him the wickets of Rohit Sharma, Ambati Rayudu and Kieron Pollard, all seasoned campaigners. From barely playing in the Ranji Trophy, Sundar was now playing alongside the likes of Dhoni, Smith, Rahane and Stokes. The 17-year old had indeed come a long way.

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Vijay Hazare exploits

The Tamil Nadu boy is a genuine all-rounder. He made his first-class debut in 2016 and opened the innings alongside former India opener Abhinav Mukund. 5 games in the longer format of the game were less successful but an extended run in this year’s Vijay Hazare Trophy, a One-Day tournament, brought him the recognition of being an accurate bowler.

He did the job of containing the runs and ended the tournament with an economy rate of 3.27 with 4 wickets in 6 games. Tamil Nadu were crowned champions and even went to win the Deodhar Trophy with Sundar playing all 3 games in the tournament. The off-spinner caught the eyes of scouts ahead of the IPL.

He was summoned by RPS along with Jammu Kashmir all-rounder Parvez Rasool for trials. Sundar impressed everyone with his accuracy and edged out the experienced Rasool, who has even played for India in limited-overs cricket, to be picked by RPS just a day ahead of the tournament. He made his IPL debut on April 22 and was immediately given the responsibility of opening the bowling.

Any 17-year old boy would have careened off the prospect of bowling to David Warner and Shikhar Dhawan with the new ball in a T20. But Sundar stuck to his guns and bowled exceptionally well to return with 0/19 in 3 overs. He had exhibited that he has great mental strength and the will to take on the best in the world despite being thin on the experience front.

Regular feature in the XI

Post the Sunrisers game, which RPS had won comfortably, Sundar was a regular member of the XI for the rest of the season. That his run of 10 games has coincided with RPS’ turnaround this year is a hallmark of his consistency with the job he was assigned with. The only off day he has had this year was in his third game against 2-time champions KKR. In a game where everyone struggled to contain the likes of Gambhir and Uthappa, Sundar conceded 32 runs in 3 overs. The rare blip in such a big tournament is imminent even for someone who is vastly experienced, let alone a teenager who is playing his first IPL.

Since the KKR game, Sundar has bowled 16 overs and picked 7 wickets at an economy rate of 5.94. That is some comeback by the all-rounder. He hasn’t been able to display his batting abilities as he has faced just 11 balls this year. But he will definitely get his chances in future.

At the moment the talk of the town is his exploits against Mumbai Indians in a big game. Playing at the Wankhede, RPS were not defending a big total as they had put 162 runs on the board. RPS has always handed him the new ball whenever a left-hander has opened the innings and this time it was Parthiv Patel which prompted Smith to throw the new cherry to Sundar. His first over went away for 8 runs which included a six by Parthiv. He was taken off the attack and was reintroduced in the 6th over, in which Sundar turned the match on its head.

As a bowler does not have too many variations. He relies on his off-spinners and natural variations. His bowling is not all about darts, he gives it a fair bit of rip when the ball gets older and the surface starts gripping a little. In the 6th over of the innings, Rohit wanted to get maximum runs before the fielding restrictions were to be lifted.

Sundar was aware that the batting side will come hard at him and he kept it wicket to wicket without giving the ball any air. Rohit decided to sweep the first ball and was hit on the pads. The replays suggested that Rohit had hit the ball but the umpire was quick to raise his finger.

Three balls later, Sundar struck again. Rayudu had pulled one straight to Smith at short mid-wicket, a delivery which wasn’t short enough to play the particular shot. Mumbai were reeling at 42/3 after 6 overs courtesy Sundar’s twin strikes.

The off-spinner then got the scalp of one of T20’s best batsmen: Kieron Pollard. The big man flicked a fast off-spinner straight to Smith again at short mid-wicket. Sundar was exceptionally good in a big game where even the best in the business stutter. He will now have his eyes on the final. A good showing will go a long way in shaping the career of Washington Sundar.

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