“Whatever the team needs, I should be able to do that. That’s what is needed from a youngster like me,” 18-year-old Washington Sundar has said this multiple times in the past few months. He is ready to take up the challenge to bat and bowl at any demanded position. He plays for Tamil Nadu in Ranji Trophy, same as India’s leading off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin and opener Murali Vijay. Sundar being more of an opening batsman, who offers offspin as well, has to take a back step whenever Ashwin and Vijay are present in the XI.
For example, recently in Tamil Nadu’s match against Andhra Pradesh, he didn’t get more opportunities as a bowler because of Ashwin in the side. Sundar scored his maiden First-Class ton against Tripura where he had opened the innings in the absence of Vijay. However, with Vijay’s return in the next game, Sundar was pushed down the order again. When asked if he gets disappointed at situations like these, the teenager denied it and said its the age where he can adapt to different positions and for him the priority right now is to be able to be good enough to contribute in whatever role he is given.
This kind of confidence and maturity is against the traits of a teenager and hence, it is must for the Indian management to take care of this talent and nurture him in the best possible manner.
Earlier in October, he joined among the few Indian cricketers who had failed the Yo-Yo Test – a fitness benchmark to make it to the national team. The likes of Yuvraj Singh, Amit Mishra and Suresh Raina also had failed in the test but it was surprising for the fact that Sundar is so young. He revealed later on that he was not informed about flunking in the test personally the next day he woke up to read the news in the newspapers. For any player of his age, this would come as a major blow to his self-belief, however, the failure only inspired Sundar to work harder.
Cricket is in Sundar’s blood
After all, the 18-year-old has cricket in his blood. His father was a cricketer himself and had even made it to the Ranji probables. The former hailed from a very humble family and his parents were not in a different good position to sponsor both his education and cricket. Two streets away from their house in Triplicane lived an ex-army man called P.D. Washington, who was a massive cricket enthusiast and admired Sundar senior’s game. The army guy then provided the financial and mental support to Sundar Senior. He bought him books, uniform, cycled him to the ground for the matches and constantly encouraged in every way possible.
Sundar Senior’s first son was born a few months later after the army officer Washington passed away. The mother had a difficult delivery but fighting against the odds, the baby had survived. In the memory of the man who had done so much for him, Sundar Senior named his child, “Washington Sundar.”
The child eventually began to develop a liking towards cricket. At the age of six, his father saw glimpses of a talent hidden in him. Washington Sundar could hit the ball straight at a beautiful swing with a perfect eye to eye coordination. The kid just did not accept when his father bowled underarm at him. He said, “Father, bowl at whatever speed you want.” As he entered his teens, he was ready to conquer his way out and fulfil his father and Godfather late ex-army Washington’s dream.
Ravi Ashwin-like beginning
Similar to Ashwin, Sundar began his career as a batsman. Although he bats down the order, he admits being comfortable opening the innings. Even Ashwin was an opening batsman in the beginning of his cricketing career. However, Sundar’s offspin was given more preference and ahead of the 2016 ICC Under-19 Cricket World Cup, Sundar was groomed into an off-spin all-rounder.
The same year, Sundar received a massive opportunity to share the dressing room with the likes of MS Dhoni, Steven Smith and Ajinkya Rahane when Rising Pune Supergiants (RPS) named Sundar injured Ashwin’s replacement in the 10th edition of the IPL. For an offspinner, he managed 11 wickets in eight matches that included three in the first Qualifier to take RPS into the final and certainly had gone into the ‘keep an eye on’ list of the Indian selectors. This year, an 11-wicket haul in the Duleep trophy final that led India Red to a victory, his maiden First-Class hundred for Tamil Nadu and overall consistent performances with both bat and ball in the domestic circuit ensured the selectors looked at him.
Apart from these, he was emerged as the highest run-scorer and wicket-taker in the Tamil Nadu Premier League (TNPL) this year and that made his contention for the India T20I side even stronger.
The setback inspires Sundar
He was first taken into consideration for the home T20I series against Australia. But, due to his failure in the Yo Yo Test, he missed out on an India debut. He was once again called for the test in October. Prior to his second attempt, he had done enough preparation and trained in all aspects, where he needed to. He started to bowl more and spent extra time on his batting too. He even concentrated on fitness as it has become a very important aspect of this Indian team. All the hard work had paid off when he nailed the qualification mark of 16.1 at Bangalore’s National Cricket Academy (NCA).
He has been in constant guidance and training under his coach Hrishikesh Kanitkar and strength and conditioning coach Ramji Srinivasan and these two have played a huge role in Sundar’s career so far.
Sundar was expected to make his international debut during the T20I series against Sri Lanka. However, he was awaited of a better debut when he received the India cap from the Indian Coach and former Indian Captain Ravi Shastri before the second ODI on Wednesday. It was a great moment of pride for the teenager as at 18 years and 69 days, he became the seventh youngest player to debut for India. Although he had just 12 First-Class matches under his belt but his recent performances were sufficient to hand his first maiden game in the blue jersey.
— BCCI (@BCCI) December 13, 2017
The dream-come-true moment
India batting first, the stand-in skipper Rohit Sharma went berserk against the Lankans as he registered a record third ODI double hundred. As he remained unbeaten on 208 and India lost only four wickets, Sundar did not get a chance to bat in his first international match. In the Sri Lankan innings, when five overs went past since the second dismissal, then came the moment Sundar and his family had been waiting for – Rohit threw the ball to him. With Angelo Matthews and Lahiru Thiramanne at the strike, Sundar could make a difference here. He is tall and is particularly well against left-handers.
Sundar’s first over was quiet as he gave away just four runs. Thiramanne, the left-hand batsman, was on strike when Sundar returned for his second over. It took him three more balls to open his account at the elite international level. Angling towards the middle stump, Sundar went flat and full and Thiramanne judging the wrong ball to reverse-sweep got his stumps wrecked. The teenager took nine balls to clinch his maiden international wicket and that moment will be etched in his and his father’s memories forever.
He bowled all the 10 overs and finished with an average economy of 6.50 so that would indicate that apart from the wicket, he had a mediocre match. But, since he looked at an ease while bowing, the final figures can be ignored. Sundar managed to do a decent job because he had a shield of 392 runs from the Indian batsmen. The game of cricket is a strange game. It welcomes young batsmen and even fast bowlers with open arms but it gives an outsider treatment to spinners with very less experience of tough situations, training and matches, overall. It is the Indian management’s responsibility to show Sundar the correct path and help him do justice to the oozing talent in him.