Washington Sundar Embodies Champion Mentality of India’s Gen-Next
Along with Shardul Thakur, Sundar went on to add 123 runs for the seventh wicket.
Registering bowling figures of 3 for 89, which include the prized scalp of Steve Smith, and playing a fighting knock of 62 against an Australian pace bowling attack of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins, firing on all cylinders, is the stuff of dreams for many players. In fact, only two players in world cricket right now seem capable of such all-round exploits against an intimidating opposition like Australia, that too at their den. One is Ben Stokes and the other is Ravindra Jadeja.
But, believe it or not, it was a 21-year-old Washington Sundar, making his Test debut for India, and not seasoned campaigners like Jadeja or Stokes, who has treated us with such a splendid performance.
What makes Sundar's exploits even more special is the fact that it came in an all-important series-decider, with the Indian team is missing so many of its first-team members due to injury.
All of India's premier pacers -- Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammad Shami and Umesh Yadav -- got ruled out with injuries during the course of this series and losing their ace spinners, Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, was the last thing they needed. But a thumb injury and back issue sustained during the Sydney Test saw Jadeja and Ashwin shifting to the sidelines as well, and that forced the Indian management to take a tough call.
Ideally, everyone was expecting left-arm wrist-spinner Kuldeep Yadav to make it to the XI in the absence of both Ashwin and Jadeja. But the Indian team management chose to go with Sundar, who wasn't even in the original Test squad.
There was a lot of outrage on social media following this. Afterall, head coach Ravi Shastri had hailed Kuldeep as India's No 1 spinner in overseas Tests after their last tour to Australia, and here was Sundar with the experience of just 12 first-class matches, the last of which came in 2017.
Throwing an inexperienced player like him into such an intense battle didn't seem like the right move at first. However, what prompted skipper Ajinkya Rahane to prefer him over Kuldeep was probably his superior batting skills and the ability to dry up runs by bowling tidy stump-to-stump lines at a venue like the Gabba, where spinners have less than one-third of the wickets taken by seamers in the last decade.
Sundar's selection looked logical if we see it from this angle. But it was still up to him to prove his captain, and the management, right. And the 21-year-old did no wrong.
A flick from Steve Smith, under whom Sundar had made his IPL debut in 2017, straight to midwicket gave the youngster his maiden Test wicket. The dismissal was a result of tidy lines bowled, with the ball landing in the same areas time and again, a theory which formed the basis of Sundar's selection for this match.
Ultimately, it was Sundar's discipline triumphing Smith's patience and he kept doing the same thing over and over again during his 22-over-long spell on the first day. He couldn't pick any more wickets after Smith's dismissal but he kept things tight.
When Day 2 resumed, he gave India an important breakthrough in the form of Cameron Green and followed that up with another wicket of Nathan Lyon to finish with bowling figures of 31-6-89-3. It was only the second time he bowled more than 30 overs in an innings. His longest spell was 35.1-12-95-4 in a first-class match against Orissa in 2017. He was only 17 years old back then and has hardly played red-ball cricket after that. So this was a tremendous achievement considering the odds that were stacked against him.
Looking at his bowling figures and prior experience, he had already exceeded expectations but Sundar wasn't done yet. When he walked out to bat on Day 3, India found themselves staring down the barrel at 161/5, trailing by 208 runs. Things worsened even further as one of India's heroes from the Sydney Test, Rishabh Pant, departed soon after leaving India tottering at 186/6. However, what followed after that was a tremendous display of confidence, grit and temperament.
Along with Shardul Thakur, Sundar went on to add 123 runs for the seventh wicket. The Australian pacers kept peppering him with short deliveries but the youngster stood firmly at his crease, taking the blows on his body. He was quick to latch on to the loose deliveries, though, while his partner Shardul Thakur kept dealing fire with fire from the other end.
The duo brought up their maiden Test fifties during their stay of 36 overs at the crease. Thakur deserves equal applause for his efforts as well, but Sundar's achievement was more significant considering his inexperience, the situation he walked into the team and the amount of pressure he was under to deliver in this match. In fact, he is the first visiting player in Australia to take three wickets and score a fifty on Test debut since India's Dattu Phadkar in 1947.
We still can't predict what is going to unfold in the next couple of days of this match but the youngster has given India the chance to fight with his all-round contributions.
In fact, Sundar has embodied the champion mentality of the next generation of Indian cricketers with his performance. His no-look six off Nathan Lyon's bowling during his knock sums up how confident youngsters like him are these days.
All of the young Indian players like Shubman Gill, Mohammad Siraj, T Natarajan and Navdeep Saini, who have made their debut in this series prior to him, have looked at ease playing at this level. None of them have looked overwhelmed by the occasion or opposition. Moreover, Siraj has shown tremendous courage to stand up against racial abuse he has copped on this tour and that sums up how tough they are mentally. They are not afraid to be in the line of fire and are fully confident of their abilities. They have shown that they can dominate even in the most adverse situations. India's future is surely safe in their hands.
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