Cricket

Washington Sundar: ‘Too many expectations only add to the pressure. I don’t want that’

Washington Sundar   | Photo Credit: R Ragu

He is the man of the hour; Washington Sundar is suddenly here, there and everywhere on Chennai’s social circuit, despite the many dad jokes he has had to endure on his intriguing first name.

That, however, may not have been the only reason for the anxiety writ large on his face at a recent event hosted on the grounds of Amir Mahal in Royapettah by the Prince of Arcot, Mohammed Abdul Ali, and his son, Mohammed Asif Ali.

The 21-year-old international cricketing sensation — who had a stellar Test match début against Australia earlier this month at The Gabba in Brisbane — was returning to the grounds where he had learnt to steady his grip on a cricket bat. “I have spent my childhood playing cricket here at the Amir Mahal,” says Washington.

With stakes so high, he does not want an unexpected COVID-19 positive test result to derail his momentum; the Royal Challengers Bangalore man is part of the squad set to take on England in two back-to-back test matches in Chennai from February 5.

Nevertheless, on the night, he arrived dressed to impress, rolling into the event, family in tow, in a red Mercedes, to an enthusiastic response from shutterbugs.

In a suede jacket paired with relaxed trousers and royal blue loafers, Washington — like many of his peers in the Indian men’s team — makes a style statement. He may be a few clicks away from taking on the likes of Virat Kohli, Hardik Pandya and KL Rahul in the fashion department, but says he “is enjoying the style that I am coming up with”... for the moment. “It is good to have fun at this age and try out new stuff. If somebody out there wants to model their style based on me, then I am happy to be an inspiration for them,” he quips.

Washington Sundar in action at The Gabba vs Australia

Washington Sundar in action at The Gabba vs Australia   | Photo Credit: AFP/Patrick Hamilton

Looking back

Washington has come a long way from when I previously interviewed him: he was 14, had just cleared his Class X exams, was playing in the TNCA first division with the Globe Trotters team, and was a shoo-in for the India U-19s. In the seven years since, there is a quality about Washington that seemed to have not changed a bit: composure that belies his age.

It is the same quality that he applied whilst steering India through in the first innings of the fourth test at The Gabba during a gritty knock of 62, taking on the likes of Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood — some of the best fast bowlers on the planet at the moment. “It comes from the upbringing,” says Washington, when asked to explain his remarkable ability to stay composed.

“My dad has always been tough on me, be it with cricket or my studies. He has given me the freedom but at the same time he made sure that I come through tough radars. I am glad that it has helped me develop [composure] as a part of my personality,” he adds.

That is a recipe for success straight out of the MS Dhoni playbook. “Honestly, I never expected too much out of cricket or my career. I definitely wanted to play for the country... but I have also felt that expecting too much out of my career always put the pressure on me. I have never wanted that. I just wanted to work hard and focus on the process, and so here I am... with God’s grace,” he says.

Playing at the highest level means subjecting the body to the highest level of physical fitness. Washington understands the cost of an injury. In 2018, the southpaw injured his ankle just as he was making big strides in the Indian team following his T20 début; he was about to play England in the UK in the limited overs format. The injury meant he had to spend months on the sidelines; the support afforded by his family helped, as did his rehab routine. Washington says he owes a debt to his trainer Rajinikanth and physiotherapist at the National Cricket Academy for helping him bounce back. “They worked hard on me. Now I feel really strong mentally and physically. It is what has helped me these last 18 months,” he adds.

Tamil boys gang

Whilst he looks forward to playing England in the Test match series, he is more excited about the prospect of reuniting with the ‘Tamil Nadu contingent’ in the Indian team. In the just concluded Border-Gavaskar series, the Indian squad had Ravichandran Ashwin, T Natarajan and Washington Sundar, and Bharat Arun and R Sridhar in the coaching staff.

“The way Tamil Nadu [State team] has done, especially in white ball games over the last few years is amazing, there are now so many players in the IPL as well,” he says, adding “I am very happy to be around them.”

Before he is mobbed by another group of camera-wielding fans, I ask him if he finally did get to have the “extra helping of Pongal” that commentator Harsha Bhogle wished on air that his mom would make him; Washington smiles. “Yes, I did.”

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Printable version | Feb 28, 2021 6:21:29 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/sport/cricket/washington-sundar-too-many-expectations-only-add-to-the-pressure-i-dont-want-that/article33675814.ece

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