Washington Sundar's unnoticed appeal

He is a very disciplined bowler – a proven batsman in domestic cricket but it is Washington Sundar’s conduct that stands out.

Washington Sundar
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Washington Sundar. (Photo Source: Getty Images)

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A teenager earned prominence with his performances in the Indian Premier League, made his international debut at 18 and there is an air of nonchalance about him. He is a very disciplined bowler and a proven batsman in domestic cricket but it is Washington Sundar’s conduct that stands out. In an era and age where flamboyance defines your character, the share of limelight you hog, which determines the opportunities you get – he seems to not care about it.

A few new additions to the Indian team are weighed on the “intensity” and “impact” they create on the field. But Washington doesn’t even try to fit in there – as if it doesn’t matter to him. He is not a rare talent, a finger spinner is any way the other choice in limited-overs cricket now. He doesn’t turn the ball a great deal and hasn’t even added a ‘carom ball’ – the new holy grail for off-spinners to his repertoire. All the matches he has played for India thus far have been as a replacement player, but he still looks secure.

Where does this lanky youngster source his confidence? He wasn’t even a bowler, to begin with. It was just that fielding for the entire length of the match was a bit too much for Washington, and he asked for the ball just to get rid of the monotony! Laziness can sometimes work well in your favour. It was then that former Indian spinner M Venkataramana helped him hone his spin bowling prowess. He was the leading run-getter in the 2017 edition of the Tamil Nadu Premier League (TNPL) but hasn’t demanded or been rewarded with an opportunity to bat for the national team.

We’ve seen the new-age youngsters make their debut – quite a few of them – they want the world to know that they’re young, full of exuberance, and are so charged up they’re almost radioactive – raring to go create shock waves in any arena. Most of them don’t succeed immediately at the highest level. The transition is huge. From domestic to international, from Mushtaq Ali and Vijay Hazare Trophy to Twenty20 International and One-Day Internationals. But our protagonist here bowled the very first over of his career in the Powerplay in a T20I and yet, was as inert about it as he possibly could be.

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What makes Washington Sundar

Washington Sundar
Washington Sundar. (Photo Source: Twitter)

He remarks that being a batsman helps him. He has the ability to think from the batsman’s perspective and he can thus anticipate and pre-empt their moves. Which directly gives him the control of the duel. He is the one in command, he is the one dictating terms, in fact, playing with the batsman’s mind. And he does that with the serenity and precision of a sniper.

As far as his bowling is concerned, he doesn’t go in with just a set plan. He knows it pretty clear in the head, the ploy he has to act upon but is still like an impromptu act. He analyses the batsman’s moves and varies his line, the length as well as his pace based on the batsman, situation and how the over has transpired. What the batsman has done and what he predicts he’s looking to do.

He isn’t one of those bowlers who pushes the ball and darts it in excess of 90kmph to keep things tight. He spikes up or tones down the pace, flights or flattens the ball based on his understanding of the situation. Again this ability to think on the feet allows him to be in a position where even being hit for a boundary, on the first ball of the spell – doesn’t upset his rhythm.

Standing at 6’.1” he is tall and has a high arm action. A very simple flow into the delivery allows him to release the ball late and that gives him an added nanosecond to make the final decision.

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In all the 6 T20Is and an ODI, he’s either rolled off the proceedings or bowled the second over. Hit him for a boundary or a six and he won’t play it in your hands, instead bowl a series of crunchy deliveries to transfer back the pressure and force you to do something out of your skin. Even in the shortest format of the game, he sets batsmen up, toys with their psych if I may say. Being a batsman himself helps him understand what’s his prey going through.

IPL 2017 – he went unsold in the auction. Then, Ravichandran Ashwin was ruled out of the tournament and Rising Pune Supergiant needed an offie. They had two options to pick from – it was Washington who dismissed skipper Steve Smith in the trials and bagged the contract. 11 matches later he was bowling with the new ball in the final of the tournament and he finished off with figures of 4-0-13-0. None of it showed on his face or in his behaviour.

India debut

Washington Sundar
Washington Sundar receives his debut cap from Ravi Shastri. (Photo Source: Twitter)

By the end of the year, he was in India colours, playing the 3rd T20I of the series against Sri Lanka. They were batting first at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai and he got his maiden wicket at the cost of 22 runs. It was a reassurance that this boy wasn’t just forcing his head out of the water to breath but has the lung and the heart to swim in the ocean.

He got another go in the Nidahas Trophy this time. The management rested Kuldeep Yadav and the off-spinner was included. He bowled most if not all his overs in the powerplay and at the end of it was the Player of the Tournament. Washington picked 8 wickets in 5 matches with the best of 3/22 an average of 14.25 and economy of 5.70 and those weren’t typical T20 wickets where the batsmen went for a big shot and holed out in the deep but he produced those scalps having tied them down, they were forced to try something different and perished.

While his performance speaks volumes, he doesn’t. He has an exceptional composure for someone that young. Someone who hails from a humble background has seen the glory of being a top performer in the IPL, the attention and fame of being an Indian cricketer.

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A Royal Challenger

At the IPL 2018 auction, Virat Kohli-led Royal Challengers Bangalore realized his value and handed him a contract worth Rs 3.8 crore. Washington will now be bowling at some fierce hitters of the cricket ball in one of the smallest grounds at a time when they just have to care about the in-fielders. This will further shape his character, playing with Virat will give both of them a really good look into each other’s head and to a large extent, the IPL will once again determine Washington’s role in Indian cricket for the season ahead.

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