He did it again! He is all but 21 years of age and he has already produced three significant performances in his four-Test career, all under pressure when most before him had failed and when his team needed him the most. Washington Sundar has been a revelation for India since his match-changing knock in the decider at The Gabba in January this year. The all-rounder produced another classic under pressure remaining unbeaten on a magnificent 96 helping India to a potentially match-winning 160-run lead in the fourth and final Test against England in Ahmedabad.
Sundar came out to bat with India reeling at 146 for 6 still trailing England by 59. The home team were in big trouble and in danger of getting cleaned up for below 180 which would have been disastrous as they had to bat last on a wicket which was not going to get easy for the batsmen come Day 4 and 5. Sundar knew that his seventh-wicket partnership with Rishabh Pant would decide whether India played alongside New Zealand at Lord’s in the final of the World Test Championship in June or whether the fixture at London would be a Trans-Tasman encounter.
Sundar played the situation to perfection. Pant was just settling in and needed someone to occupy one end. Sundar was the ideal foil. He showed immaculate defense, good judgement in leaving the ball outside the off stump, went forward and back with confidence and also got the occasional boundary. The pair put together the 50 stand in 100 deliveries - Sundar had contributed 24.
India took the lead. Pant went on the attack while Sundar defied the England bowlers from the other end. It was the perfect combination which frustrated the visitors. The partnership started assuming enormous proportions and soon the pair had stitched together a brilliant hundred stand for the seventh-wicket. Pant had put his foot on the accelerator and contributed 63 but Sundar’s 38 were as valuable and worth their weight in gold! Without a calm and cool Sundar at the other end, keeping at bay the likes of Anderson, Stokes, Leach and Bess, Pant would not have had the opportunity to play the match-defining knock he did.
Sundar was the senior partner after Pant exited late on Day 2 post his splendid hundred. The duo had put India in a dominating position with a 113-run stand of 158 deliveries. While Pant scored 71 off just 66 deliveries, interestingly, it was Sundar who had farmed the strike defying the England bowlers for 92 deliveries for his 40. Basically, he had, in a way taken the majority of the bowling, allowing the partnership to blossom while also making sure that Pant was not exposed too much playing his higher risk game.
From 40 off 92 deliveries till Pant was dismissed, Sundar went on to score an unbeaten 96 off 174 deliveries which included 10 fours and a six. This meant that he had accelerated and scored his last 56 runs off 82 deliveries. Sundar had carved together another hundred stand in the innings - 106 off 179 deliveries with Axar Patel. He scored 56 off 82 deliveries in the partnership. This showed his maturity in understanding the situation of the game and his role at different stages of India’s innings. With Pant he had to preserve his wicket and get India out of the hole while with Axar Patel at the other end Sundar had to take more chances and do the bulk of the scoring himself - he excelled in both the avatars taking India to a position of strength by the time their innings came to an end.
During the course of the innings he showed his entire repertoire in shot-making - from creaming Bess back over his head for a six to crunchy cover drives off the bowling of Anderson - Sundar was at his elegant best and as good as any top-order batsman. Batting at number 8, in an encounter which held enormous significance, under pressure with all the top and middle order in the pavilion he was involved in two back to back hundred partnerships which changed the match on its head and put India in the driver’s seat to dictate the course of play.
Sundar had produced a match-defining 62 in a match-changing stand with Shardul Thakur again when the top and middle order had failed in the series decider in Brisbane on Test debut against one of the best bowling attacks in the world in their own backyard - that requires skill, courage, temperament and buckets full of guts! He produced a masterclass unbeaten 85 in the first innings of the series opener in Chennai.
First time can be a fluke, second time just chance but when one repeats a feat for a third time in the first four Test matches of your career, it is a combination of serious talent, ability and temperament coming together at the very highest level. Coming at the back of two successive ducks makes this performance at Motera even more special.
The best in the business take time to make their mark at the international level but here is Sundar, barely past his teens, who with three monumental performances with the bat in his first six innings has shown the world that he belongs to the big stage as if he was almost waiting for his chance against the big boys.
It is high time the cricketing world starts viewing India’s number 8 as a batting all-rounder for that is what he is and respects him for what he has done for the country instead of finding faults with his other discipline.