Washington Sundar drives en route to his highest Test score. (BCCI)
Washington Sundar drives en route to his highest Test score. (BCCI)

Washington Sundar keeps building on India’s resilience theme

  • In a previous era, it wouldn’t have come as a big surprise, but India’s current set of lower-order players have built a reputation as tough fighters.
PUBLISHED ON MAR 07, 2021 08:12 AM IST

The late implosion came out of the blue. In the space of five balls, India’s Nos 9, 10 and 11 were gone. In a previous era, it wouldn’t have come as a big surprise, but India’s current set of lower-order players have built a reputation as tough fighters.

On Saturday, Washington Sundar again showed he leads that new brigade. The 21-year-old was stranded, caught one scoring stroke short of converting his third half-century in four Tests into a superb maiden hundred.

Axar Patel, having battled with Sundar to hand India a 160-run lead that would be enough to complete an innings win in three days in the final Test against England, was trying to give his partner the strike when he was run out at the non-striker’s end. Ishant Sharma and Mohammed Siraj too were out without a run being added to India’s 365.

Sundar walked away disappointed, but the Indian dressing room would be confident his 96* won’t be his top-score for long. On debut in the historic Brisbane Test win, his 62 at No.7 and a 123-run stand with Shardul Thakur had revived the team. It had justified picking the off-spinner over chinaman bowler, Kuldeep Yadav. In the first Test in Chennai, he had ended 85*, again at No.7.

On Saturday in Ahmedabad, he had again justified skipper Virat Kohli’s backing of players with all-round talent. The tall left-hander had came into the squad as the third spinner who could add lower-order batting spine. “Bowling combination we will try to give as many options as possible, with guys who have the ability to contribute with the bat. That will be at the forefront of our plans,” Kohli had said before the series. Sundar again passed that test in flying colours.

Sundar was the support cast in the 113-run seventh wicket stand with Rishabh Pant on Day 2. He turned aggressor in the 106-run eighth-wicket stand with Patel (43) on Day 3. It was only the third time in Tests that the seventh and eighth wickets produced century partnerships.

Sundar, resuming on 60, was beaten in the first over by James Anderson. But he made it count in the next two hours. He favoured the off-side (he got 29 of his runs through extra cover - his favourite scoring area). The defence was compact and his shots displayed assurance. If Anderson kept Sundar and Patel quiet, they went after the England spinners. A prime example came in off-spinner Dom Bess’s second over of the day. Sundar got under his full delivery to hit it over the bowler. The next ball, a low full toss, went between cover and long off.

Seen as a T20 player, Sundar, who has a first-class century opening for Tamil Nadu, is proving his Test credentials fast. The calm approach gives India the option of even playing him as a specialist batsman in the future. Patel too was in the zone, taking on left-arm spin counterpart Jack Leach. When the boundaries dried up, they rotated the strike. On a pitch that saw England crumble twice, here was the No. 8 and No. 9 showing how it is done. Much like R Ashwin had done while scoring a century at No. 8 in the second innings of the second Chennai Test.

For all the heroics of Sundar and Patel, when Hardik Pandya and Ravindra Jadeja return to full fitness, they may not even find a place in the XI.

“Our bench strength is extremely strong and that’s a good sign for Indian cricket. When the transition happens, the standards won’t fall and Rishabh and Washy’s partnership showed exactly that in a crucial juncture of the match.” Kohli’s words of encouragement at the end of the match put the performances in perspective.

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