Should India pick Washington Sundar for their tour of England?
Washington Sundar announced himself on the international stage with a phenomenal performance in the Nidahas Trophy. The 18-year-old off-spinner was the joint highest wicket-taker in the tournament, scalping eight wickets in five matches. It was his economy of just 5.7 that turned heads though, in a sustained performance of exceptionally tight bowling. Ultimately, it was Sundar and leg-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal who were responsible for India's tri-series success.
But where does Sundar's career go from here? India's next international assignment is away in England, a place where they have struggled historically. Should Sundar be picked for that gruelling tour?
Ashwin's Failures In England
There is no doubt that Ravichandran Ashwin is one of the best off-spinners India has ever produced. However, his record outside of Asia and outside of the Caribbean is worryingly poor. Ashwin struggled in the Champions Trophy and was only picked in three of India's matches, taking just one wicket. Indeed, in the crucial final against rivals Pakistan, Ashwin crumbled under the pressure and bowled a loose spell of 10-0-70-0 which gave the opposition vital momentum.
This is not unusual for Ashwin, whose Test bowling average away from home is 31.67 while it is just 23 at home. Thus, despite being a very experienced and devastatingly talented spinner, Ashwin is not the prime choice for India's limited overs tour of England. Last time India toured England for a bilateral series, he was only picked in two Tests, showing the lack of faith the selectors had in him to deliver in English conditions.
Is it time for India to try out a new off-spinner in England? India's upcoming generation of leg-spinners contains a dazzling array of talent in the form of Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav. But if India were to require another off-spin option, to lead the line ahead of Ashwin, Sundar could be the prime candidate.
Is He Too Young?
Perhaps the main concern about selecting Washington to tour England is his age. A poor away series could severely dent his confidence and deter his progress. However, looking at young Afghanistan leg-spinner Rashid Khan, it is clear that this is not always the case. Khan has excelled on the international scene despite his introduction at a young age and the experience he has picked up has moulded him as a player. Sundar could greatly benefit from the experience he would gain.
Indeed, Washington is no stranger to fame. In the 2017 Indian Premier League (IPL), he was called up by the Rising Pune Supergiant to replace Ashwin, who was ruled out due to injury. Instantly he was thrust into the spotlight and projected onto the screens and into the hearts of millions. Despite the immense pressure the IPL brings, Sundar thrived and put in a string of phenomenal performances.
The teenager ended up playing eleven matches for his franchise and picked up eight victims. Once again, though, it was his impressive economy rate that made him such a great asset. Sundar went at just 6.16 runs to the over against some of the most experienced and explosive T20 batsmen in the world and showed that his youth was no hindrance to unqualified success. Rashid Khan also experienced something similar. Therefore, it would be harsh to exclude Sundar on the grounds of his tender age.
Picking Washington to go on India's tour of England would be a huge gamble - it has to be said. Being so young and inexperienced in foreign conditions, there is a chance that Sundar could struggle on the tour and it could stunt his future development as a cricketer. However, it is a risk India ought to take. Ashwin's recent bout of poor limited-overs form has meant that India need to cultivate an off-spinner to replace him in the long term. Sundar undisputably has the talent to replace Ashwin and be his successor.
It is time for him to take centre stage in India's limited-overs plans.