Washington Sundar, beating the big boys since sixth grade

To those who have seen the youngster from close quarters - like his sister and his childhood coach - his success at the Gabba was inevitable

Deivarayan Muthu
Pat Cummins, the No.1-ranked Test bowler in the world, pings Test debutant Washington Sundar on his left shoulder. Washington doesn't flinch at all. Cool as.
Two balls later, Cummins bangs another short ball and pings Washington on his hip. Washington doesn't flinch again. Cool as.
Washington has seen - and overcome - more painful body blows. When he was about seven years old, he was struck flush on the helmet by a wild full-toss at the nets and suffered a deep cut that needed four stitches. Despite doctors and his family insisting on rest and recovery, Washington turned up for an inter-school game a couple of days later and batted lower down the order to score a match-winning thirty-something.
Washington was a prodigy in the Tamil Nadu cricketing circles. His dad M Sundar, a former Tamil Nadu prospect, began training him with a tennis ball when he was in kindergarten. Sundar would later train Washington and his elder sister Shailaja at the Chepauk 'B' nets, with their cousin Avaikarasan also joining them.
Washington played Under-16 cricket for the state when he was in sixth grade and by the time he was 13, he was playing first-division league cricket in Chennai facing boys twice his age. To put things in perspective: when Washington broke into the robust first-division Chennal league, S Sriram was still an active player there. Sriram is now with the Australia side as their spin-bowling coach.
Oh and Washington was primarily an opening batsman back in the day. He wasn't quite the opening bowler who would pin down batsmen in T20 cricket. He was more known for his organised technique, sound judgement outside off, and ability to handle pace. That Washington re-emerged during his fifty on Test debut against arguably the best Test-bowling attack in the world right now.
"Playing against or with periya pasanga (older boys) like Sriram, Venugopal Rao and his brother Gnaneswara Rao in first-division cricket at such a young age was a learning curve for Washi and it shaped his career," Shailaja tells ESPNcricinfo. "Having also played many fast bowlers at the MRF pace foundation, he has that game-sense to adapt to speed. Not many can adapt to it easily and that too on your debut as a youngster in Australia against a top-class attack. It's a big thing."
Shailaja, a top-order batter herself, was particularly thrilled to see that "old Washi" on show at the Gabba.
"If you ask me or others who have seen Washi grow up, he was an opener," Shailaja says. "I'm more a fan of his batting than bowling. The Washi I saw today was more the Washi I know. When he was so young, his drives were so clean and graceful. All the others could see his batting talent today."


Around the time of his birthday on January 4, Sundar had a strong gut feeling about Washington making his Test debut in Australia. As it turned out, Washington replaced the injured R Ashwin in the series decider, following up his three-wicket haul with 62 off 144 balls.
Once the Sundars came to know about Washington's debut on the eve of the game, there was cause for more celebrations during the Pongal (harvest) festivities.
"My dad had a strong feeling that Washi will debut in Australia," Shailaja recalls. "We woke up at 3.30am because we wanted to see Washi get his cap. Romba (Very) special! Mom (Prema) did her special puja and to see him get (Steven) Smith was pleasing. Our dad has faced a lot of struggles to get here and whenever we saw Washi growing up, we always thought he will be a Test cricketer. The world is now witnessing it."


Washington had no business playing this Test. He was originally picked as a net bowler for the Test leg of the tour to tune up the batsmen against Nathan Lyon. But, here he was pulling off a no-look slog-swept six against Lyon. Cool as.
Washington's job isn't done yet and M Senthilnathan, who had identified Washington's talent as a 13-year old at MRF, reckons that he could play a bigger role with the ball with his stump-to-stump lines if the Gabba pitch breaks up on Monday.
"If the wicket is a little rough and if it assists the spinners, Washington Sundar will be difficult to bat against," Senthilnathan says. "He will be somewhat like Jadeja; Jadeja is very difficult to bat against in a turning track. Washington won't also give you time and will be exactly on the stumps. Imagine if on a turning track you don't get bad balls or don't get time to step out, how will you score runs?"

Deivarayan Muthu is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo