Studies don't matter if I can manage to do well in cricket, says Washington Sundar

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Washington Sundar had a memorable 2016-17 season

A few years ago, when I turned 18, I was concerned about my engineering course and how to get rid of the arrears I had at the end of the first year of my college life.

Fast forward to 2017; I have found, just a few kilometres away from my home in Chennai, a person who has already represented India in the under-19 World Cup, won trophies with his state team and played alongside the likes of MS Dhoni, Steve Smith and Ben Stokes in the IPL – all at the age of just 17.

My first encounter with him happened seven years ago when he scored back-to-back centuries in an under-16 tournament at the age of 10. Since then, there has been no turning back for this wonder kid, whose career skyrocketed even before he turned 18.

Most fans got to know about him during the 2016 under-19 World Cup, where he impressed everyone with his all-round skills. But even then, his name created more buzz than his performances on the field.

Yes, his name, “Washington” Sundar became famous among the fans who weren’t aware of his skills. But a year later, he has made a name for himself as a player, thanks to his heroics for Tamil Nadu and Rising Pune Supergiant.

After remaining unsold in the IPL players auction, Washington was drafted into the Pune team as a replacement for his fellow Tamil Nadu spinner R Ashwin.

Extra cover: The story behind Washington Sundar’s name

“I got Steve Smith bowled during the RPS trial”

Attending a trial for an IPL team is not easy for any player, and for a 17-year-old who is yet to make his T20 debut, things are even more difficult – especially given that he was pitted against an Indian international in Parvez Rasool. But Washington didn’t put pressure on himself and at the same time, he was confident about getting picked by the franchise.

What happened next? He did something that the Indian bowlers struggled to do in the Test series before the start of IPL – castling Australian skipper Steve Smith. Apart from getting Smith bowled, he got the better of the costliest player in the 2017 auction and the world’s best all-rounder at present, Ben Stokes, against whom the youngster kept things tight.

Later, he was signed by the franchise and became the third youngest to play in an IPL match, after Sarfaraz Khan and Pradeep Sangwan.

Playing in the IPL is surely the dream for many budding cricketers because it gives an opportunity for us to showcase our skills. Even before the start of IPL, I had a very good Vijay Hazare and Deodhar Trophy. I was happy when they first called me. I neither had any expectations nor put pressure on myself going into the IPL trials with the Pune franchise.

“I had nothing to lose going into the trials but I was confident of doing well and getting picked. There was a normal net session where I was up against Ben Stokes and Steve Smith. I got Smith bowled. Though it was in a practice session, I felt good to have dismissed a legend like him.

“I also managed to keep things tidy against Stokes who was looking to be at his aggressive best. Those things gave me confidence. I did well and eventually, they picked me,” he said.

Washington Sundar celebrates with Steve Smith during the 2017 IPL

By the end of the IPL, he became one of Rising Pune Supergiant’s proven match winners. He bowled really well and didn’t give anything away for the batsmen, making life extremely difficult for them.

He is often compared to Ravindra Jadeja; many observers find shades of the Indian all-rounder in the Tamil Nadu youngster. When asked about the comparison, Washington revealed he wasn’t aware of it. He went on to say that he is willing to come out of his comfort zone and try different things depending upon the conditions, rather than just sticking to his strengths.

He said, “It is actually an honour to get compared with someone like Ravindra Jadeja. Bowling flat and wicket to wicket is my strength. But I am willing to change my plan according to the situation.

“For example, against Delhi Daredevils, the wicket was on a slower side and I had to bowl slow, flight the ball to generate some spin, and I was successful in doing so as I got Corey Anderson out. I can change my plans and come out of my comfort zone if I need to do that, but my main aim is not to give anything away for the batsman to hit.”

“It was very difficult to bowl against David Warner”

He had a couple of memorable matches against Mumbai Indians. In Qualifier 1, he was adjudged Man of the Match (becoming the youngest to win MoM in the IPL) for his spell of 3/16 in his quota of four overs. In the finals against the same opposition, he ended with figures of 0/13 in his four overs, bowling to some of the biggest hitters of the cricket ball.

Extra cover: Ravichandran Ashwin feels Washington Sundar has all the components of an accurate off spinner

Talking about those two performances that earned him a lot of fans, he said, “Before going into any match, I did a lot of homework and it didn’t change going into the matches against Mumbai Indians. I just wanted to execute the plans I had set for every batsman.

“I was confident that I would be able to do well in both those games in spite of them being knockout matches, and the opposition being a successful team like Mumbai. Bowling against MI at Wankhede is always difficult and in a high-pressure match like the finals, I enjoyed bowling and was happy to have executed things as per the plan.”

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Washington celebrates the dismissal of Mumbai Indians batsman Kieron Pollard during the IPL 2017 qualifier

He also confessed that it was challenging to bowl against some batsmen, especially David Warner, as the Aussie tried to disturb his rhythm by moving inside his crease. Also, most of the batsmen were complacent while facing Washington as he is just 17 years old and a bit experienced.

But the Chennai-born all-rounder kept his nerve and did the job for his team.

“To be honest, it was a challenge to bowl at any batsman as I bowled most of my overs inside the first six overs. Almost all the batsmen wanted to hit me and knowing that I am just 17, they had a psychological edge over me and they looked to put me under pressure straight away thinking that I am inexperienced.

“I was aware of those things and wanted to keep it tight. As I said, it was difficult to bowl at the batsmen as most of them are established players, but bowling to David Warner was a bit tougher when compared to the others.

“He wanted to hit me every ball and was trying to confuse me as he was coming closer to the stumps, moving away from the stumps, trying switch-hits etc. I bowled against him in two games including my debut game and was happy to keep him at bay,” Washington conceded.

He went into the IPL without playing a single T20 match and ended the tournament with great success, learning a lot from his teammates in the process. He is also glad to have played alongside the likes of MS Dhoni, Steve Smith, Ben Stokes etc., and revealed that he gained a lot of knowledge playing with them.

“Playing alongside players like MS Dhoni and Steve Smith, someone who averages 60 in Test cricket, was a special feeling. I am glad about it. When I got a chance to play for Pune, I just wanted to learn a lot of things from players like Dhoni, Smith and others.

“At the end of the season, I had already played 11 games alongside them and gained a lot of knowledge that will be helpful for me in the future,” he said.

Also read: 10 things to know about RPS' latest sensation Washington Sundar

He could have become an instant hero if he had finished off the match for his team in the finals. Walking in to bat at a stage when his team required 7 runs off the last three balls, Washington managed to get a bye and give the strike to his senior partner Dan Christian, who managed just 4 runs off the last two balls.

Eventually, Pune fell short by just one run and Mumbai won their third IPL title.

“I was blank when I went to bat in the finals. I was just thinking what he (Mitchell Johnson) will bowl. Honestly speaking, there was some pressure, but there was no tension or shivering when I walked out to bat.

“It was an opportunity for me to be a part of a big moment as there were more than a billion people watching the game and I had to score 7 runs off the last 3 balls to win the tournament for my team. I was enjoying myself at that moment and probably would have enjoyed more if I had taken my team home,” he admitted.

I prefer opening or batting at number three

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Washington in action during the 2016 under-19 World Cup

The world saw what Washington is capable of with the ball in his hand, but not many know that he is a very good batsman as well, playing in the top-3 for his club Globetrotters. His batting ability should be evident from his back-to-back centuries as a 10-year-old in an under-16 game, and he has also opened the batting for Tamil Nadu in Ranji Trophy.

Unfortunately, he didn’t get a chance to bat in the top order in the Vijay Hazare trophy or the IPL, thanks to the batting might of the teams he was part of. He revealed that he is working on his game and is trying to improve his batting down the order.

Extra cover: Washington Sundar reveals the reason behind his jersey number (555)

“Definitely, I prefer opening the batting or batting or number 3. Given that cricket is a team game, I have to be ready to bat anywhere. If my team demands to go at a rate of over 6 in the last few overs, I should be ready for that. I have been learning a lot about batting at number 6 or below because it is something that is very new to me.

“I used to open the open the batting or bat at number 3 until last year and if I manage to succeed lower down the order, my batting will be somewhat complete,” he added.

He was a part of the Indian under-19 team in the 2016 World Cup where the Ishan Kishan-led team finished as the runners-up after losing to West Indies in the final. Washington had a decent tournament as he shone in all three departments.

He was just 15 when the tournament took place; he could have easily played two more under-19 World Cups. Unfortunately for him, coach Rahul Dravid has set restrictions on the number of under-19 World Cups a player can play.

So unlike his seniors like Sarfaraz Khan, Ravindra Jadeja, Vijay Zol etc., Washington cannot represent India in the upcoming under-19 World Cups in spite of being eligible to play, thanks to the “only one under-19 World Cup” cap imposed on the players by the former Indian captain.

But Washington has no complaints about that, and feels what Dravid did is the right thing as it allows more players to get an opportunity.

“No, I don’t regret it at all. Rahul sir was right to bring in that rule because if you have already played at one level, you should progress forward rather than playing at the same level for some more years.

“I represented India in the 2016 under-19 World Cup and performed well. I won’t gain anything from playing in one more under-19 world World Cup. Instead, I can look for some other challenges at a higher level.

“I don’t consider playing just one under-19 World Cup as a missed opportunity. We had seven players (Zeeshan Ansari, Mahipal Lomror, Rahul Batham, Armaan Jaffer, Anmolpreet Singh, skipper Ishan Kishan and Washington himself) who were eligible to play in the next under-19 World Cup.

“If all these players play again, many budding and talented cricketers in the country might not get a chance to prove themselves. It is actually a good initiative taken by Rahul sir and the BCCI,” Washington said.

Apart from Dravid, a lot of experienced coaches have come Washington’s way in his short career. Those include former New Zealand skipper Stephen Fleming, former Indian batsman Hrishikesh Kanitkar and former Gujarat Lions’ assistant coach Monty Desai.

Washington feels playing under different coaches is a big learning curve for him as a cricketer, as all of them have their own perspectives and the way they handle the team is different. He also considers himself lucky to play under the above-mentioned names, and particularly thanks Dravid and Fleming for being easily approachable.

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Washington with his father M Sundar (Image credits: Indian Express)

In spite of all these big names, the coach who is closest to his heart is his first coach and father, Mr Sundar. Washington hails from a family that has cricket in its blood. His father is a cricketer and his sister MS Shailaja also played cricket for Tamil Nadu and South Zone.

Watching his father play made him choose cricket, a decision, he says, that he will never regret in his life.

“My father is a cricketer and also my coach. I used to go and watch him during his practice sessions and matches. That’s how I grew my interest in the sport. I started playing cricket when I was in my Kinder Garden. I used to play cricket in my house and whenever I go to my father’s training sessions, I will ask him to bowl at me. That was a small foundation stone for my career in cricket,” he said.

“Studies don’t matter if I excel in cricket”

Being a 17-year-old, it is always going to be difficult to balance your cricketing career and studies. Washington admits that it is very difficult for him to balance these two things and he struggled to finish his higher secondary education.

Extra cover: Proper cricket shots are the best form of innovation, says Washington Sundar

However, pursuing a degree at the moment is not at the top of his mind as he wants to concentrate on the game. He believes that if he is good in cricket, studies don’t matter.

He might have a point because if he proves himself as a cricketer at the biggest of stages, higher studies won’t be a big issue. Quite famously, Sachin Tendulkar was unable to give his class 10 exams due to his cricketing commitments, and we all know where he ended up.

“For me, it has been very difficult to manage my studies and cricket simultaneously and especially in the last two years, it has been very tight because I have been away playing for the Indian under-19 team, Tamil Nadu and Rising Pune Supergiant.

“It was really difficult for me, but somehow, I managed to finish my schooling (12th standard or higher secondary) when I returned home after playing in the under-19 World Cup in 2016.

“I am yet to decide about my college. Also, it doesn’t matter if I am excelling in cricket. If I can manage to do well at the top level, studies don't matter because I can always come back and finish my degree.”

For now, Washington wants to improve his game but at the same time, he does not want to think too much about the areas for improvement; he wants to face challenges as they come. However, his main goal is to maintain his consistency whenever he takes the field, and his ultimate aim is winning the Ranji Trophy with Tamil Nadu.

“There is always a room for improvement. I had a very good season and at the moment, I don't want to think about those things. I just want to be happy about it. However the things go in the future, I would like to face it as it comes. Ranji Trophy is a prestigious trophy and winning it is always special; in fact, it is a dream to win the tournament.

“It is a long-term goal for every one of us.There is still a long way to go in the tournament. We have to play 8 games before the quarter-finals. I enjoy my game right now. I don’t want to look too far ahead especially at this stage. I just want to perform consistently whenever I take the field, be it for Globetrotters or Tamil Nadu or Albert Tuti Patriots or RPS,” he concluded.

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Washington with his under-19 coach Rahul Dravid

After a great start to his career, it won’t be a surprise if Washington makes an appearance for the national team in the next few years. He has ticked all the boxes that are needed for an international cricketer, and could be a handy addition to whatever team he plays in. For his dream of representing the country to come true, he has to work hard on his game and maintain his consistency.

Considering Washington’s potential, it will be a shame if he does not represent India in the future. He should just realize that success and failure are part and parcel of the sport and should not get complacent with his success and go the Unmukt Chand way or the Vijay Zol way.

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