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How Washington Sundar makes batsmen go wishy Washy

Experts opine that India’s teenage off-spinner’s ability to persistently bowl nagging length and handle pressure makes him a trump card

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How Washington Sundar makes batsmen go wishy Washy
Washington Sundar
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Captain Rohit Sharma termed teenager Washington Sundar's player-of-the-series performance in India's recent T20 tri-series triumphant campaign in Sri Lanka as "magical".

While batsmen Shikhar Dhawan and, in the final, Dinesh Karthik, made loud noise and are talked about, here is a youngster who has quietly gone about his business and is slowly making a mark in international cricket, especially in the shortest format with his off-spinners.

Opening the bowling in Twenty20s with the Power Play in is not easy. The batsmen rule this phase. But, the 18-year-old off-spinner and left-handed batsman from Tamil Nadu has been remarkable with his bowling when others have been sent to the cleaners.

Sundar has opened the bowling in all the six T20 Internationals he has played so far from his debut against Sri Lanka last December. His economy rate is 5.66 in them. Indeed an incredible effort from a youngster who is only in his first international season, and when an economy rate of around 7 is considered very good in T20 format.

He showed glimpses of his fearless nature to open the bowling when Rising Pune Supergiant captain Steve Smith gave him the new ball in IPL 2017. Replacing the more illustrious off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin in the squad, Sundar played in 11 matches, opening the bowling in a majority of them and finished with an economy rate of 6.16.

Many may have raised their eyebrows at Sundar's ability to contain runs while also picking up wickets early on. But, those who have guided him and seen him closely are not at all surprised.

Former India pacer and now Tamil Nadu bowling coach Lakshmipathi Balaji said that opening the bowling, being miserly and picking up wickets are something that are Sundar's natural abilities.

"He is born to do it. It is not something that he has planned," Balaji told DNA from Chennai. "He is born with the natural ability and the opportunity came first came in Tamil Nadu Premier League (Team Albert Tuti Patriots).

"Even before that, when he bowled in the 2016 ICC U-19 World Cup in Bangladesh, we noted that he was someone who can adjust to any situation. Even in Vijay Hazare Trophy (50-over tournament) last year, he bowled most in the death overs against India 'A' and India B and handled it beautifully.

"Even if he gives runs, he can come back and take wickets. He does not believe in taking a backward step. He is someone who adjusts quickly, something that is very rare to see among bowlers," said Balaji, now bowling coach of Chennai Super Kings in the upcoming IPL.

Balaji added that Sundar rarely errs in length, something that was visible in the tri-series in Sri Lanka where he managed to keep quiet the rampaging Sri Lankan Kusal Perera among others.

"Bowling the right lengths takes years to develop. But for Washy, it is a god's gift. I have not seen him err in length. He rarely give the cut balls. At such a young age, his temperament is superb. Bowlers tend to go out of rhythm.

For Washy, it is not a question. Bowlers go under pressure when batsmen start tonking the ball. But he has the instincts to quickly adapt to the situation."

Tamil Nadu's head coach for the last couple of seasons, former India all-rounder Hrishikesh Kanitkar seconded Balaji.

"In terms of bowling, Washington has kept it very simple in such a way that he knows what he can do. He won't complicate by trying too many things," said Kanitkar.

"His great quality is that till the ball leaves his hand, he has the choice of changing the plans at the very last minute that catches the batsman unawares. Being an off-spinner is tougher in the shortest format. Most batsman manipulate how you bowl. But Washy is able to turn the tables.

"It is difficult to put him under pressure. He sticks to the basics and gets into the minds of the batsmen," said Kanitkar, who was also RPS assistant coach.

"In the IPL, he bowled really well. He has taken that confidence and whatever he has learnt there, has taken it forward. He has learnt a lot from interactions with experienced players like MS Dhoni. Every time I see him, he is getting better at what he does. His learning attitude is very good," the former left-handed batsman and right-arm off-spinner said.

Seeing Sundar make his Ranji Trophy when he was in charge, Kanitkar was impressed from Day 1.

"He is only growing in confidence. He has got a very big heart. What you see him in practice is what he does in matches. Most players are different in nets and in matches. But Washy is the same in both. Intensity is high in practice that when the match comes, he is very comfortable," said Kanitkar.

While Sundar the bowler has caught the attention, there has rarely been any scope to show his potential with the bat.

He has proven himself as a top-order for India Under-19 and for Tamil Nadu, notching up his highest first-class score, 159, as an opener.

Balaji said: "Washy has the potential to become a superb all-rounder. What we are witnessing is his bowling but with the bat, all his shot selections are easy on the eye."


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