Is Washington Sundar a batter who can bowl? Or an off-spinner who can chip in with the bat? Or can he develop into a genuine all-rounder? This is a question commonly asked of cricketers in Washington’s mould. And it is perhaps fundamental to India getting the best out of the 23-year-old going forward.
So far in his fledgling career, the youngster from Chennai has shown enough promise with bat and ball to suggest that there is genuine all-round ability. Though he was initially picked for India for his bowling, his batting has come to the fore especially in Tests, the serene timing, unflappable temperament and conventional technique illustrative of his upbringing as an opening batter in junior cricket. Those attributes were demonstrated on Test debut at the Gabba in Brisbane, scoring 62 in the first innings and a 29-ball 22 in the second to contribute to a win that is now part of Indian cricket lore. In limited-overs cricket, it is his bowling that remains his primary responsibility for the time being. Not a big turner of the ball, he puts his accuracy and height to good use to play the role of a containing bowler, often taking up the challenge of bowling in the powerplay overs without batting an eyelid.
The first ODI against New Zealand last week was a notable instance of Washington’s all-round skills coming together. He displayed a different facet of his batting by smashing an unbeaten 37 off 16 balls, laced with three fours and as many sixes, and then was as miserly as ever with the ball, giving away just 42 runs in his 10 overs when everyone else conceded more than six per over. When the situation in the third ODI at Christchurch on Wednesday demanded restraint, he responded with 51 off 64 deliveries.
Such performances are what Washington is consistently after. According to his father and coach M Sundar, Washington sees himself as a genuine all-rounder.
“He sees himself as a genuine all-rounder. He has been working equally hard on both his batting and bowling. He also took four wickets on his Test debut,” Sundar said. “I used to say that he is a batter who can also bowl, but now I cannot say whether he is a better batter or bowler. He will be an opening batter who bowls off-spin for India one day.”
Former India coach Ravi Shastri has similar expectations from Washington. “He is going to be one of India’s leading all-rounders,” Shastri told ESPNcricinfo in May. “He is the future. This guy is your premier all-rounder across all three formats of the game. Hear what I am saying. Three formats of the game.”
The only caveat in Washington’s case is injuries, a recurring theme in his short career that has caused him to miss many important assignments over the past 18 months. From fracturing his finger ahead of the tour of England in 2021 to hurting his hamstring and shoulder subsequently, a heap of injuries has severely limited his time on the field. The latest setback arrived in August, when he injured his shoulder while fielding a boundary-bound ball for county side Lancashire in a 50-over game in England.
How has Washington and his family dealt with these hurdles? “He hasn’t had a proper run for the last 15 months. He was in excellent form. He scored 96* in his last Test (in March 2021) . If I say I wasn’t disappointed, I would be lying,” said Sundar. “No matter what happened, he didn’t stop working hard. He has been working even harder than earlier. He hasn’t put pressure on himself. He didn’t go to the T20 World Cup. But he didn’t think about those things. Instead of sulking, he has strived to keep getting better. He is mentally very strong. This phase has showed his maturity.”