Cricket

IPL 2020: Amid desert carnage, silent assassin Washington Sundar goes about his business as RCB's vital cog

  • Jigar Mehta
  • October 15th, 2020
  • 12:15:59 IST

4-0-12-1

No, these are not the bowling figures in a match where a team had its opposition bowled out under 100 or restricted them below 130 in a T20 game. This is a game where 402 runs were scored in total, 49 boundaries were hit (23 fours and 26 sixes), 248 runs were scored in boundaries.

Those were the bowling figures of Washington Sundar against Mumbai Indians in Dubai in the 10th match of the Indian Premier League. RCB had posted 201, MI reached the same total and the match ended in a tie with RCB winning the match in the Super Over.

Amidst the carnage, Washington quietly went about his business and bowled one of the most astonishing spells of the tournament that prompted Ravi Shastri to tweet - "In a batsman’s world - from Chennai to Washington. Best IPL performance so far in 2020. Special."

The way Washington set up Rohit Sharma, frustrating him with three dots through accuracy and then getting his wicket and then going through the entire match without conceding a boundary encapsulated Washington the cricketer - simple, intelligent, and consistent. On a day when every RCB bowler went for over 10 runs an over, Washington's economy rate column read 3.

"It's about releasing the ball as late as possible. And when you have to see the batsman's leg and movement, you also have a better chance of suspecting what he is going to do and where he is going to try and get you." Sportzpics

"It's about releasing the ball as late as possible. And when you have to see the batsman's leg and movement, you also have a better chance of suspecting what he is going to do and where he is going to try and get you." Sportzpics

"It's very heartening to bowl really well in that particular game," Washington says of that MI match in a virtual round-table conference. "It's not that I did anything different, I just wanted to hit the right areas. I was looking to create different angles for different batsmen and cultivate some guesses in them. Picking the wicket of Rohit Sharma in the very first over will give you confidence. We were defending 200 and definitely wanted to get his wicket very early. And we did that. And after that Ishan (Kishan) and Quinny (Quinton de Kock) were playing very well but I wanted to create some angles against them and bowl at different speeds and it paid off."

The Tamil Nadu off-spinner might not be setting the stage on fire with a barrage of wickets and Man of the Match awards but he is the silent assassin who is frustrating oppositions, building pressure, and quietly becoming a vital cog in RCB's arsenal.

Washington is a no-nonsense cricketer who goes about his task with utmost sincerity and very little fuss. He keeps on doing the same things over and over again and that perseverance pays dividends. His versatility has also helped RCB where he's contributed in the Powerplay and middle overs.

His Powerplay bowling has been exceptional. In these 11 overs, he's conceded 50 runs and picked up three wickets at an economy rate of 4.55. That economy rate is mind-boggling, given the fact that he's been bowling against some of the best batsmen under fielding restrictions. It is the best among bowlers who have bowled more than two overs in the Powerplay. What's even more staggering is the fact that he's conceded just three fours in that phase. It has visibly had an impact on the team's performance. Last season, RCB had an economy rate of 8.73 (second-worst) in the Powerplay and an average of 50.71 (second worst) and SR of 34.8 (second-worst). This season at the halfway stage, their economy rate in the Powerplay is 7.21 (Joint second-best) with an average of 33.67 and SR of 28.

In a tournament where runs have flowed and the average economy rate (till the halfway stage) is 8.47, Washington's stands at 4.90 - the best for a bowler to have played more than three matches. In the 22 overs, he's taken five wickets at an average of 21.60 and strike rate of 26.4.

He chokes the batsmen for runs and builds up the pressure and frustration. Factor in this - off the 132 balls he has bowled, around 39 percent of his deliveries have been dots (51/132). In the powerplay, it goes up to around 41 (Not taking wickets into account - (27/66)). There has been just one six hit off his bowling in those 132 balls and just five fours. That Rohit wicket was a prime example of the frustration and chaos he can create in a batsman's mind.

In the first two matches Washington was given just three overs combined, none in the Powerplay, but then the leadership group realised the need for a change and handed Washington the ball in that critical opening phase, against MI. The move worked. In the slugfest, Washington's Powerplay figures read - 3-0-7-1. 11 of the 18 balls were dots.

So what makes Washington click?

There is not just one but a combination of factors. Beneath that calm demeanor is a tough cricketer who loves challenges and thrives under pressure. And those nerves of steel were forged very early on in his childhood by his father M Sundar. In the tournament so far, against the best, in the toughest of scenarios, he's bowled with all the assured confidence of Nadal arriving in Paris.

"I love bowling in powerplays," Washington says. "I love handling such pressures and bowling against difficult batsmen in that phase. I was very happy that I was given that role."

Then there is his unwavering discipline. The off-spinner more often than not hits the right lengths with accuracy. He doesn't bowl them full nor short, it's that length in between the two that makes it difficult for the batsmen to hit him. And he bowls those with decent pace, generally over 90 km/hr. It gives the batsman very little time to react. And then he varies his pace as well to keep the batsman guessing. He hardly misses his mark.

This discipline factor is not just restricted to the line and lengths, in his 22 overs so far, he hasn't bowled a single wide or no-ball. This discipline is also punctuated with clarity of mind. He knows what's required for a seamless transition between different phases of the match.

"In Powerplay, you can't really try out many things, you just have to stick to one or two things," he explains. "You can't really experiment or play with a lot of fields. But of course, in the middle overs, you can play with and create a lot of angles and bowl different lines and speeds as well because you know that five fielders are outside the circle but in Powerplay, you can't try a lot of things, you just have to keep things simple and do one ore two things over and over again."

Beneath Washington Sundar's calm demeanor is a tough cricketer who loves challenges and thrives under pressure. Sportzpics

Beneath Washington Sundar's calm demeanor is a tough cricketer who loves challenges and thrives under pressure. Sportzpics

The analysis of the right lengths comes from rigorous preparations before the match. Washington is a meticulous planner and likes doing his homework on the opposition batsmen through video analysis before every match.

"It's got a lot to do with different batsmen and what sort of angles they wouldn't want to face," Washington says. "And also the variation of speed and what kind of revolutions you have to bowl to different batsmen and what kinds of speed as well. So, it's more to do with the batsmen I am going to come against and not really the grounds. Of course Sharjah is small but if you are going to have your plans against different batsmen then you know what you are going to do, you have your clarity and also you just go with the process that you have to do."

That preparedness reflects in his confidence.

"Honestly, I've been doing my homework very well and the management have been helping me in that regard," the 21-year-old explains. "So far I've not seen any batsman on the field against whom I didn't have any idea against or any clarity to bowl to. Since I have already planned, I just wanted to enjoy the process of bowling in the powerplay and in the middle overs and go over the process and plan that I've got for each. I've not been short of ideas against any batsmen in this season."

The plans can be fluid and they do change depending on the situation in the middle as well. Sachin Tendulkar pointed out Washington's special ability to keep watching the batsman's feet till the last moment and adjust his line and length during the match against Mumbai Indians. Look no further than the Eoin Morgan dismissal at Sharjah. Morgan stepped away to the leg side to give himself room to hit over the off side but Washington followed him, hit the hard length, got a bit of bounce and cramped him for room. An uncomfortable Morgan's slash was edged straight to short third man. Washington had his man.

The key to this special ability to adjust is the late release.

"I think it's about releasing the ball as late as possible," Washington explains. "And when you have to see the batsman's leg and movement, you also have a better chance of suspecting what he is going to do and where he is going to try and get you. And if you can pick up that hint as early as possible before you could release the ball, then it's going to help you and also help you do what he doesn't want you to do."

Hitting the right areas where you want to bowl consistently isn't easy. A lot of spinners veer away from their plans and lengths after getting hit. It requires a lot of control and Washington has developed it over the years through hours of practice. The height also plays a role in achieving that control.

The other advantage he gains from his height is the bounce and also against a six feet spinner, the batsmen find it a tad difficult to read the length early.

Washington is a bit different from other finger spinners, he doesn't have many variations but he has got 3-4 releases with different seam positions and trajectories which get different purchases off the wicket - some get extra bounce, some turn sharply, some stay in the air for longer.

Situation-based practice in the nets has also helped his powerplay bowling.

"If I am bowling for 30 minutes in a net situation, I will bowl 20-25 minutes in Powerplay scenarios," Washington says. "I will tell the batsman what the field is going to be and I also will think in a fashion of where I am going to bowl in the Powerplay. So probably 5 or 10 minutes I will give myself to bowl in the middle overs. But most of the time I will give to prepare to bowl in the Powerplay."

The skillsets have produced the results but the backing of captain Kohli has been crucial.

"For a spinner, your captain has to be really important," Washington explains. "For a skipper to have so much confidence in you to make you bowl in the Powerplays, sometimes three overs as well and especially against batsmen like Watson, Faf (du Plessis) and many others, it should definitely give you a lot of confidence. It's been three years with Virat and I've learned a lot of things and I am very glad he's got so much confidence and belief in me. It really means a lot for a youngster like me."

The skillsets have produced the results for Washington Sundar but the backing of the captain Kohli has been crucial. Sportzpics

The skillsets have produced the results for Washington Sundar but the backing of captain Kohli has been crucial. Sportzpics

Last season, Washington got just three matches in the IPL. But Virat and the team management seem to have realised that 21-year-old is too good a player to warm the benches. He is a utility cricketer who can be an aggressive batting option and a safe fielder as well. With the pitches getting worn out and slower, his threat will only increase.

In his debut IPL season, Washington had played a crucial role in helping Rising Pune Supergiant reach the final (8 wickets from 11 matches at 23.12 and a second-best tournament economy rate of 6.16). It was Stephen Fleming who had introduced the cricketing world to Washington the Powerplay bowler. If Washington continues with the same verve and is utilised intelligently, RCB may have finally have found the key to unlock their famously empty trophy cabinet.

Updated Date: October 15, 2020 12:15:59 IST

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