Washington Sundar, despite promising performances, has not been able to nail down a spot in India’s first-choice white-ball XI. But after a stellar series against New Zealand, his time has come, writes Shashwat Kumar.
For a long time, Sundar’s best suit has been debated. Is he a batter who can bowl, or is it the other way round? On Test debut, and in the England series that followed, he illustrated he could be the former. In white-ball cricket, though, his usage has indicated that he could be the latter. This has led to a lack clarity for Sundar himself as to what his role is, and intermittent India gigs.
The all-rounder had to wait almost five years for his second ODI cap, despite making his debut against Sri Lanka at Mohali in 2017. This year, he has featured more often but has only bowled his full quota of overs once. In fact, he has only bowled more than five overs thrice this year in seven matches. Batting chances have also not been very forthcoming.
The good thing about Sundar, though, is that he has made the most of whatever opportunities have come his way. In Auckland, India needed someone to finish their innings alongside Shreyas Iyer. Sundar produced a 16-ball 37* and helped India breach the 300-run mark. In the 3rd ODI, the visitors’ top and middle order had crumbled under pressure, leaving Sundar to rescue the innings. He registered a fifty and ensured that India had something to bowl at.
Sundar did not fare badly with the ball either, conceding 58 runs in 13 overs at an economy rate of under five across the series. He did not pick up a wicket but that was not his role, considering other wicket-takers such as Arshdeep Singh, Umran Malik and Yuzvendra Chahal. His task was to keep things tight and he played that part admirably.
Throughout his white-ball career, Sundar been a bowler who induces mistakes by creating dot ball pressure. So, it might not make sense to ask him to run through batting line-ups and evaluate him on that metric. An adequate role must be created for him, and fortunately for Sundar, India seem to be crying out for someone of his ilk, who could have an impact with both bat and ball, balancing the side.
Sundar, by virtue of being a left-handed batter, also adds a lot of variety to India’s batting unit. Rishabh Pant (another left-handed batter) seems ahead of Sanju Samson in the wicket-keeping pecking order currently. But if India were to opt for Samson, or replace Pant with KL Rahul, they might require a left-handed batter to maximise potential matchups. This is where Sundar could come in, having already proved his batting mettle on the international stage.
The other left-handed batter who could possibly feature in India’s first-choice middle order is Ravindra Jadeja. Jadeja, it could be argued, would walk into the XI when fit. But the problem is he has not been consistently fit over the past couple of years. Even at the T20 World Cup, his and Jasprit Bumrah’s absences left gaping holes – holes that India ultimately failed to plug, largely because they had not planned adequately for such a scenario. Sundar seems the perfect answer to this quandary. He can bowl tidily and keep the run-scoring down. He can pop up with crucial cameos lower down the order and has the smarts to stay a step during the game.
Moreover, the next ODI World Cup will be held in India, where there is a possibility that India play two all-rounders (Hardik Pandya and Jadeja), two spinners and two pacers. With none of the other pace-bowling or spin-bowling incumbents wielding the willow as well as Sundar, there is every chance that he could feature alongside Jadeja and Pandya, giving India that extra batting depth and providing them a spinning option inside the powerplay. Either way, India seem to have many different options, which portrays how much utility Sundar brings to the setup.
For India to make full use of his talent, though, they must start trusting him. He has hardly put a foot wrong since making his international debut. Across formats, he has also shown the temperament to handle pressure situations. All he needs now is for India to back him and give him confidence that he can be a regular starter.
That is what happened in New Zealand a few days ago, and that is what should happen against Bangladesh. If Sundar continues to prove himself as resourceful and valuable as he did against New Zealand, it should certainly happen in the build-up to the World Cup too.