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Match Analysis

'Big plus' Washington Sundar hasn't lost his white-ball smarts

Washington Sundar isn't India's first-choice spin-bowling allrounder but, not for the first time, showed what he can do if given an opportunity

Deivarayan Muthu
Wickets with the ball: check. A sensational return catch: check. A half-century with the bat: check. For most parts of the T20I series opener in Ranchi, it was Washington Sundar vs New Zealand, as his captain Hardik Pandya put it at the post-match presentation.
Washington might not have played this game had Ravindra Jadeja been match-fit for international cricket or if Axar Patel not taken a personal break. In their absence, Washington showed glimpses of what he is capable of, on a challenging pitch in Ranchi.
The new ball gripped and turned more than the old one did. With Arshdeep Singh and Hardik bowling too full to start with in the powerplay, the captain handed the new ball to Washington for the third over. The offspinner hasn't bowled for India in the powerplay in T20Is since March 2021, when he was dumped out of the attack by Jos Buttler in Ahmedabad. Injuries have ravaged Washington's career since, but his new-ball smarts haven't gone away.
Washington denied New Zealand's batters the full ball and kept hitting a hard length. All of his 24 balls were on a length or short-of-a-good length, according to ESPNcricinfo's logs. He had also immediately sussed out that the new ball was turning sharply. He used that turn to his advantage to have Finn Allen drag a catch to deep midwicket.
Washington then extracted more turn to beat Mark Chapman thrice before making the incision. He cut down his pace, and got some drift to have Chapman spooning a return catch. For a moment, it seemed like the ball was swerving away from Washington's reach, but his dolphin-bellied dive ensured that the ball ended up in his right hand.
He wasn't done yet. Washington cracked a 25-ball half-century from No. 6, his first in T20Is, to give India's chase of 177 some late impetus. The first ball he faced was reverse-swept flat and hard from leg stump - or just outside leg stump - past short third for four. Bam!

Washington Sundar is learning to blast out attacks

If you had followed Washington's early career in Chennai, you would have been surprised by this shot. He had started his career as a top-order batter who would see off the new ball and wear down attacks. In this India side, Washington's role is to deal with the old ball and try to blast out attacks at the death.
In IPL 2022, he had been assigned a similar role by his franchise Sunrisers Hyderabad. Since then, he has been working specifically on his power-hitting. In the Indore nets, he repeatedly pumped Yuzvendra Chahal and Shahbaz Ahmed over the top.
The results of that behind-the-scenes work were on display in Ranchi. Washington regularly cleared his front leg and threw his hands, shoulder, and everything into his hits. His batting was so unfettered that at one stage he walloped two sixes and three fours in the space of seven balls.
"Yes, growing up I always used to bat up the order - open or bat at No. 3 - but obviously this shift happened ever since I started to play a lot of T20 games, especially in the IPL," Washington said at the post-match press conference. "Obviously, it demands practice. Any skillset, I feel, if you practice really hard, and if you work in the right way and in a specific way, you will eventually get it and it happened that way to me as well.
"You know, I just spent a lot of hours doing what that particular skillset demands, and eventually I'm lucky I got it."

Hardik Pandya: Washington 'is a very big plus' for India

It's not easy when you have to change your entire game and slot into a new role after having played a very different role for much of your career. Washington's lower-order batting is still a work in progress, but his most recent knock in Ranchi and cameos in New Zealand and Bangladesh last year, in ODIs*, are proof of his adaptability and can-do mentality.
Washington might still have to make way for Axar or Jadeja when they return for the home ODI series against Australia, but for now, he has two more chances in the shortest format against New Zealand to push his white-ball case.
"He's a very big plus and we're looking for someone who can bat and bowl," Hardik said of Washington. "The way he's bowling and the way he's batting gives us a lot of confidence going forward. Axar is there and he [Washington] is there right now. If these two guys keep continuing the way they're batting, it's going to help for the Indian team."
Since making his international debut in 2017, Washington has missed at least two World Cups because of injuries or lack of enough batting ability. He is now doing everything he can to finally get there.
* Updated at 8.33am GMT on January 28, 2023.

Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo