New Delhi: Amidst an year in which India will only be traveling overseas, the Nidahas T20 Tri-series in Sri Lanka was concieved as an unnecessary engagement. Rather a stretched effort to organise cricket in Sri Lanka. As a result, the core of Indian team was rested and understandably newer faces were blooded. But during this two-week period , the tri-series has thrown several performances or rather fringe faces which could very well fit in Virat Kohli's scheme of things, considering the 2019 World Cup is not far away.
India's 18-year-old off-spinner Washington Sundar is certainly the one to benefit in the future owing to his show in the tri-series. The Tamil Nadu spinner has shown tremendous potential as a finger spinner, more so in the powerplay, which could really interest Kohli to exercise a surprising strategy in ODIs and T20s. While regular wristspinners Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal have been an integral part of Kohli's XI, Washington's miserly economy in run-fests and the quality to adjust to tricky situations might strengthen his case.
Bowling with the new ball with just two fielders on the rope is no easy task. But Washington has proved time and again that his cunning, guesswork and a fearless approach have helped him stand out. India skipper Rohit sharma too said that his confidence as a spinner speaks volumes about his bold character. "Washington has been courageous to take the ball from me, not afraid to flight the ball, and he's very clear on what he wants to execute. That allows me to breathe easy. When a bowler knows what field to set, that talks a lot about that individual," Rohit said.
While he uses the word 'reading' the batsmen's mind that helps him to vary his deliveries, his high-arm action and a late release coupled with clever under-cutting makes it even more dificult to comprehend. Washington keeps a tight vigil on the batsmen's feet movement and adjusts his length and trjectory accordingly.
"It is important to read the mind of the batsman," Washington said. "I myself am a batsman to an extent; I can suspect what he is thinking and where he is going to hit me. Every six balls, the batsman will be looking to hit you at least for a four and six. I am fortunate to have the skill of taking wickets in the Powerplay," Washington, who took 3-22 against Bangladesh, added.
Yes, having a batsman's brain in the body of a bowler always gives an insight into the oposition batter's mindset but in Washington's case, it is more to do with his accuracy as an off-spinner. Successful powerplay bowlers tend to gain by cramping the batsman for space and room, thus forcing them to manufacture shots out of frustration. All of his seven wickets are a result of how he dried up the runs and the batsmen had no option but to take a chance against him. Not to forget his fearless attitude as he is not shy of giving the ball air.
Picture the wicket of Kusal Perera in the previous game. With a strong cover on the leg-side – deep mid-wicket and long-on, Washington kept hitting the middle-stump line. The consequence of thwarting an aggresive Perera was that he tried draging a length ball for a reverse sweep and got bowled. The intention was to clear the off-side infield but the length wasn't stretched enough to play the shot.
Now cut to Wednesday's match against Bangladesh. Washington all three wickets had a pattern to them. Accuracy coupled with a late release, Washington dented Bangladesh's hope early in the chase. And mind you, it was classic off-spin bowling with no adulteration of leg-cutters, carrom balls or XYZ variations. Washington proved the critics wrong that finger spin no longer had the effectiveness to trouble the batsmen. Former India skipper Sunil Gavaskar too praised the youngster for sticking to off-spin without worrying about the variations.
Liton Das's wicket showed how Washington altered his length seeing him jump out a little too early. With that trajectory, the ball dipped and spun sharply to leave him bamboozled. Soumya Sarkar was the next to lose his timber. Having faced a couple of flighted balls from the offie, he also pre-meditated and expected another juicy half-volley. But this where Washington thought like a batsman and darted a quicker one. To be honest, it was under-cut with a slightly faltter trajectory. Sarkar thought otherwise and was stunned. Third was Tamim Iqbal. He looked dangerous and had plundered 19 runs off Shardul Thakur's over.
Against Washington, Tamim had got only five runs as the bowler offered no width. Tamim could jump out and play the lofted drive really well but Washington's plan against him was to keep it tight and flat. The only option left for Tamim was to plant his knee and try the slog. With the leg-side field packed, Tamim fell short on patience, and tried paddling a quicker delivery past fine-leg. He exposed his stumps and put an end to his innings.
“Powerplay bowling is definitely challenging. That is why you play cricket. When you win those challenges, you get a lot of satisfaction. That is how I look at bowling at Powerplays. It is a very good feeling when you bowl under six every game. Both the other teams are pretty good in limited overs," Washington added later.
In Washington's company, Chahal too hasn't faced much pressure. Just like he doesn't in Kuldeep Yadav's company. Usually he has the license to be expensive as long as he picks up wickets. Washington has given him that cushion to be at his attacking best. Even if he leaked runs, he ends up providing a crucial breakthrough while Washington has succeeded through relentless accuracy. In the context of the game, Washington and Chahal combined to give away just 43 runs in 8 overs with four wickets. For Bangladesh the already uphill task became almost unsurmountable and only a miracle could see them through.
“It was important for me and Yuzvendra Chahal to bowl well. Our eight overs were very important. I thought I should keep things tight,” Washington said.
Watching him bowl with such conviction in the powerplay overs tells you that Washington has been conditioned well. He says the club cricket he played back home in Chennai threw up numeruos such situations which helped him become better at his trade. “I play a lot of league games back home. A couple of years back, we played a tournament. I used to bowl two in the powerplay and two in the death overs which was difficult. These things helped me to get better as a cricketer. You want to keep facing those challenges,” Washington said.