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When Washington was 9, he batted despite stitches on his temple: Father Sundar

Till he turned 10, Washington Sundar’s daily ritual involved going to his father M Sundar’s cricket academy in Pudupet, Chennai, at dawn, where he would train for three hours before heading to school. Even weekends were usually spent here. Sundar, who could not graduate beyond grade cricket in Chennai, says he was helping his son Washington realise his cricketing dreams.

Having an elder sister, also a cricketer, helped. Shailaja, who represented Tamil Nadu at the Under-19 level, calls her younger brother “a natural, with a studious zeal for the game.”

With a cricket-crazy father and an enthusiastic elder sister by his side, it was not difficult to predict young Washington’s career trajectory.

He would make a seamless progression through age-group levels, breaking into Tamil Nadu Ranji Trophy squad at the age of 14, before joining the MRF Pace Foundation under the tutelage of M. Senthilnathan, their chief coach. It’s here that Washington would hone his skills as a batsman by facing quality fast bowlers on quick pitches.

The grounding at the foundation held him in good stead on Sunday at the Gabba, while negotiating three world-class pacers in Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins en route to 62.

Washington’s knock was not T20-style batting. Instead, it was a measured and calculated assault that sucked energy from the famed Australian bowling quartet.

“It didn’t look like he was making his Test debut. He looked so calm and composed. He never looked rattled by their pacers or Nathan Lyon, their spinner. Having played on hard, bouncy tracks since he was 14 has helped him,” Senthilnathan explains.

Apart from the poise he showed at the crease, Washington also showcased the willingness to put up a fight.

Sundar narrates an incident from Washington’s childhood that exemplifies how the youngster hardly gets daunted. “He was barely 9, and days before an Under-14 inter-school match in Chennai, he got hit on his head during practice. After getting five stitches on his temple, he went to play the match the next day and scored a match-winning 39 not out. That day, I realised that he was not someone who would get fazed by challenges,” Sundar notes.

In fact, facing bowlers much older and experienced than him has been a recurrent theme in Washington’s career. “He was barely 10 when he was already playing at the Under-14 level, and by 16 he was part of India’s Under-19 squad,” Shailaja had told this newspaper.

While fans and cricket pundits watched Washington’s splendid rearguard in utter disbelief, back in Chennai, Sundar wasn’t particularly surprised.

“People who have watched Washington in the IPL and T20s have the perception that he is an off-spinner who can bat a bit. But that’s not true. I always believe that he has tremendous potential as a batsman. In fact, I would say that he is 70 percent batsman,” Sundar says.

He recalls a WhatsApp video call he had with Washington on Saturday (at the end of Day 2), after he bagged a three-wicket haul. “The gist of my conversation with Washi was this: ‘Your job for this match is not done. There’s batting to be done now. This is a rare opportunity, so make sure you grab it,’” he recalls.

There were several sparkling shots during Washington’s combative knock. For Sundar, though, it was the no-look six against Lyon over the long-on boundary that stood out. “That was the shot of the day, no doubt about it. Generally, a batsman tends to follow the ball’s trajectory, but in this case, the moment the ball hit the bat, you got the sense that he had connected it perfectly. Which is why he was so confident that he just didn’t feel the need to look at it.”

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