It was the 13th over of the Sri Lankan innings. The hosts were cruising along to the target of 175 runs quite comfortably, requiring just 49 runs to win in eight overs, that too with seven wickets in hand. The swashbuckling Kusal Perera was unbeaten at one end having already accumulated 66 runs at a strike rate of 194.11 and he looked all set to lead his team all the way to victory.
In these circumstances, skippers generally bank on their main strike bowler or call upon their most experienced bowler to make the breakthrough into the game. Going by that trend, Yuzvendra Chahal would have been the right bowler to go with, in order to fetch the prized scalp of Perera.
However, the Indian skipper Rohit Sharma summoned Washington Sundar, the youngest player of this Indian brigade, to bowl the 13th over with hopes of getting a much required breakthrough. It might seem like Rohit was asking for too much from the 18-year old, but what Sundar produced in that over was something that could be described best only by his surname — ‘Sundar’, which means beautiful!
He set up Perera beautifully, thus getting him stumped on the third legal delivery of that over. The first two deliveries were bowled with utmost concentration on lengths which didn’t even give the batsman an inch to free his arms. Both turned out to be dot balls and added to Perera’s frustration. He hadn’t been able to dictate terms completely against the Tamil Nadu off-spinner throughout his spell. The next delivery was darted down the leg side and Perera became very angry with himself for not being able to put it away to the boundary, even though it was declared a wide.
And then Sundar bowled that mesmerising delivery that could have well turned out to be the turning point of the match for India, provided there was a little support from the other bowlers as well. Sundar took the pace off and tossed the ball up nicely on the off-stump, thus enticing Perera to come out of his crease and go for a big shot over cover. Perera tried to do the same. The ball turned slightly, bounced just enough to beat his willow and went straight past him to the ‘keeper Dinesh Karthik’s gloves behind the stumps. With Perera out of his crease, Karthik did the rest effecting a smart stumping.
There was that 18-year-old kid who had given his skipper exactly what he had asked for — a wicket, while giving away just a solitary run in that over as the new batsman Dasun Shanaka played out the next three deliveries without scoring any runs.
In the absence of major strike bowlers like Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah and Kuldeep Yadav, the other bowlers were struggling to prove themselves as any kind of threat against the rampaging Perera. However, Sundar showed maturity beyond his age and bowled an over which could have been the match-defining moment for India.
Not only in that over, Sundar had competed with Perera throughout his spell and was highly successful in tying him down. Perera faced 12 deliveries off Sundar’s bowling and ended up scoring only 12 runs at a mere strike-rate of a 100 whereas he kept striking at 216 against other bowlers.
Six out of those 12 deliveries were dot balls and that sums up how a mere teenager was handling someone like Perera despite the fact that he was in the zone on Tuesday.
Moreover, he bowled three out of his total quota of four overs within the first power-play itself. Although Kusal Mendis had welcomed him with a boundary on the very first ball he bowled in the match, it didn’t take him long to find his ideal way to bowl on that pitch.
He set Mendis up bowling two consecutive deliveries at a good pace. Sundar then tossed one up with its pace taken off and Mendis fell prey to it. The batsman ended up slicing it to mid-off where Shikhar Dhawan took a good catch running backwards.
So, both of his wickets came off flighted deliveries and that summed up how well he uses those from time to time as a part of his plan for batsmen to set them up. He disguises those deliveries well with his mix of pacey off-spinning darts and the accuracy with which he bowls those, outfoxes batsmen more often than not.
What stood out in Sundar’s performance, besides his sharpness and deception, was his ability to check runs in critical situations. Sri Lanka had already scored 70 runs in the first five overs and were looking to maximise the runs as far as possible in the last over of power-play.
However, he conceded only five runs in the sixth over, that too bowling mostly to Perera — a stat which gives an idea of his value as a bowler in critical situations. He is someone who can win you moments with the ball following both defensive and offensive approaches.
His spell of 4-28-2 was the silver lining on a dull day of bowling for other Indian bowlers. While he conceded runs at seven per over in an 8.75 runs per over chase, the bowler with the next best economy rate to have bowled three or more overs in the match was Chahal. He conceded 37 runs in four overs at 9.25 even though he picked up two wickets. So, that makes it evident how well the 18-year-old Tamil Nadu player bowled.
With this performance, he has certainly cemented his place in the starting XI at least for the next couple of matches in the series. Axar Patel is the one with whom he is competing for a place in the starting XI and this kind of performance has certainly given him the edge over Patel. Sundar has shown a very mature head on his teenage shoulders. If he can perform like this throughout the series, he may well become a regular member of India’s limited overs squad.