Washington Sundar: PlayStation, playing football and overcoming mental agony
Five weeks in bed, a few weeks of limping in crutches, two-hour rehab sessions, PlayStation, movies, loneliness, disappointments, friends, sister, chats, baby steps, Alter-G machine walks, marking the run-up with self-doubt, bowling again with confidence, batting, fielding, fitness tests, of course the Yo-Yo, acquiring match fitness and then finally back in the Indian T20 team.
Washington Sundar’s comeback tale begins.
He comes across as this typical modern-day cricketer who loves the PlayStation (FIFA) - his best partner during his days of loneliness inside the four walls at a hotel in Bengaluru.
One of Washington’s childhood dreams was to play cricket in England representing his country. He had done enough, at 18, to earn a spot in this competitive Indian cricket team for the limited-overs series in England.
As has happened to many cricketers in the past, a football warm-up session cut short his dream in a matter of days in England. A freak ankle injury while playing football in the build-up to the Ireland T20s meant that Washington, an off-spinning all-rounder, had to return back home-dejected.
Washington’s father and coach M Sundar knew his ward was a tough nut to crack. Instances: A 11-year-old Washington braved typhoid to smash 83 runs during a summer camp tournament. Sundar failed his maiden Yo-Yo test ahead of the home series against Australia but bounced back in style in the Nidahas Trophy.
It was him who stood right beside his son and student guiding him through those difficult situations.
“He has always been a tough character right from his childhood days. Cricket comes first for him. Even as a kid, he used to play a match and be there first at the ground for practice the very next morning. He always had the hunger to play cricket,” Sundar tells Sportskeeda.
But the ankle injury was quite different for Washington. His father terms the phase as Washington’s biggest injury break. First-class cricketers from Tamil Nadu are always in touch with the game given the domestic structure in the state.
Washington was advised bed rest for five weeks as he couldn’t walk given the severity of the ankle injury. It was his ‘best friend’ and sister MS Shailaja, a state women’s cricketer, his mother and buddies who kept him mentally fresh during his moments of frustration.
“Shailaja was taking caring of him completely. She was always around him and made him feel good. Whatever he wanted, his sister was there to support,” says Sundar.
Five weeks was over. It was time for rehab. Two hours of training, rest, PlayStation, rest, some friend visits at the hotel, a few movies, watch Asia Cup relaxing on his couch and the process continued for a few weeks.
As a group of ‘young and extremely fit’ journalists headed into the M Chinnaswamy Stadium for their annual cricket tournament earlier this September, Washington slowly walked out of the stadium after one of his rehab sessions at the National Cricket Academy in Bengaluru.
The slow walk too was part of the process and then proceeded into the AlterG machine walks. AlterG (anti-gravity) machine helps one walk/run at a lesser weight than what the person actually is. For example, one can walk or run at 30% of the actual body weight of an individual in the machine.
Slowly but surely, Washington was up and running. It was time to test his ankle being an off-spinner. There were doubts including the ones he had on himself. The first ball, even in practice, is always the toughest for any bowler to send down post-injury recovery. Will the injury occur again? Has it healed?
Washington was no different but overcame the mental demons. He bowled, batted, fielded at the NCA and gradually gained in confidence. The Vijay Hazare Trophy and Deodhar Trophy handed the lanky all-rounder an opportunity to prove his match fitness.
The selectors have shown faith in the youngster and picked him for the upcoming West Indies and Australia T20s. In such a short international career, Washington has earned his second innings quite quickly and would certainly be eager to make the most of it.
But the biggest lesson for Washington during the four months of pain and frustration was: “Be cautious while playing football.”
Sunil Gavaskar has always been critical about cricketers playing football. Washington’s father Sundar too isn’t one for cricketers playing football. Way back in 2011, Sundar had advised Washington to “avoid” playing football or be “wary of” it while playing.
“I have always told him to avoid playing football or be careful while doing it. There have been instances in first division cricket itself, where cricketers have got injured playing football with a wrong technique. I was upset when I got to know that he got injured playing football. It was a great chance for him and he missed it,” Sundar says.
A lesson learnt, in a harsh manner though.