(MENAFN- IANS) By Niharika Raina
New Delhi, Dec 3 (IANS) 2022 has been a year where injuries have hampered Washington Sundar from playing as many matches as possible for India. But the Chennai-based youngster has shown enough glimpses of excellence with both bat and ball to make people believe he can be a genuine all-rounder for India.
India's recently-concluded ODI series against New Zealand was a notable illustration of Washington's all-round skills coming together. At Auckland, Sundar hit an unbeaten 16-ball 37 to take India past the 300-mark.
In Christchurch, where the situation demanded of him to show restraint, he made 51 off 64 balls and carried India past 200. Though Sundar didn't pick any wicket in the series, he was at his economical best, seen from an economy rate of 4.46.
According to former India leg-spinner Laxman Sivaramakrishnan, Washington is a treasure who needs to be nurtured and is more suited to be the spin all-rounder. 'If you call Hardik Pandya the seam bowling all-rounder, we need to call Washington Sundar from here on as a spin bowling all-rounder.'
'Both of them would fit in really well because they can both bat and bowl as well. One of them can be used as fifth bowling option or they can even share ten overs because they can contribute with the bat as well. Washington Sundar is a treasure we have unearthed and we need to preserve and make it mature,' he said to IANS in an exclusive interaction organised by Sony Sports Network.
Sivaramakrishnan was quick to remind that Washington's batting had come to the fore in Tests first. 'Don't forget his Test knocks in Brisbane (62 in first innings) and Chennai (96 not out). He's capable of batting in any conditions. In Chennai, you play on pitches where the ball turns and in Brisbane, the ball flies around. He's got runs in both these venues and he's a very effective batter as he started his career as a batter, and then went to bowling off-spin, very much like (Ravichandran) Ashwin.'
With his pristine timing, calmness under pressure, conventional stroke-play and ability to pull off even unconventional strokes, Washington ticks every box needed for a top-order batter. Just after Washington's unbeaten 37 at Auckland, former India cricketer WV Raman tweeted that all teams featuring Washington should make better use of his batting abilities.
So, how can the Indian team make the most out of Washington's batting skills? Sivaramakrishnan thinks he should be developed to be a dependable batter at number five or six, citing the lack of left-handed batters in India's top six during the T20 World Cup.
'The saying goes of left-right combination makes it difficult for the bowlers. Yes, it does make it difficult for the bowlers who are not skilled enough to chase the lines immediately. A lot of bowlers struggle to bowl to left-right combination and Washington Sundar can be trained to bat at number five or six because he is somebody who can pace an innings. He's not a slogger, can pace the innings and in 50-overs, middle overs are very important. As a batting unit, you don't want to lose wickets in middle overs.'
At the same time, Sivaramakrishnan wants Sundar's off-spin bowling to be enhanced to pick more wickets. 'Now what he's doing is bowling economically, trying to create pressure for somebody else. But someone's got to train him into the mindset and develop the art of thinking wickets.'
'Only if you think wickets, you can get wickets. If you don't think wickets and you think I need to bowl more dot balls, you will be concentrating only on dot balls, but not taking a wicket. Five dot balls, and a four/six on the last ball can make it a slightly bad over.'
'He's a fantastic batter, while his off-spin bowling has to change from defensive to aggressive to pick up wickets because I think he would play an integral part in the next World Cup being held in India. He will play a substantial part, so invest in him and make sure he's fit for a long time. He's a young, flexible, strong man and he shouldn't be falling sick or unfit at all.'
As Sivaramakrishnan mentioned, a combination of injuries and illness forced Washington to miss many important matches in the last 18 months. He missed the England tour and second half of IPL 2021 due to a finger injury. Testing positive for Covid-19 meant he was forced to miss ODIs against South Africa in January 2022.
Though he did play ODIs against West Indies at Ahmedabad in February, he was ruled out of T20Is against them and Sri Lanka due to a hamstring injury. In IPL 2022, he injured his bowling hand while playing for Sunrisers Hyderabad and missed a couple of matches.
Landing heavily on his left shoulder while fielding for his county side Lancashire in August forced him to pull out of India's three-match ODI series in Zimbabwe. Sivaramakrishnan thinks the responsibility of looking after Washington fitness-wise lies with the trainer and physio.
'The last time I saw him at a function, he was as thin as a stick. I was thin in my playing career, but he was much thinner than me. Now, he's looking in real good shape and mentally strong. Once you are mentally strong and very fit, your confidence automatically goes up.'
'We have seen this in performances when the other batters found it difficult to bat and he was batting easily. It shows the difference in calibre of Washington Sundar and the other people who were looking to bat. He's a high-quality player, but needs to field better and fielding coach has to work with him on it. Otherwise, Washington is a superb cricketer and a genuine all-rounder.'
India tour of Bangladesh will be broadcasted live on SONY SPORTS TEN 5 (English), SONY SPORTS TEN 3 (Hindi) & SONY SPORTS TEN 4 (Tamil & Telugu) channels from December 4-26.