Washington Sundar has expertise of bowling in powerplays. © Getty
Just a little past 3 PM IST on the opening day of the IPL player auction this year, Royal Challengers Bangalore went on a spinner hunt. They put in a late, cheeky bid of INR 4 crore for Piyush Chawla and failed, and nearly went all the way through in a four-way tussle for Rashid Khan. The scramble continued for Amit Mishra, and again, agonisingly, their valuation was marginally short of the winning bid.
After swiftly using their option to retain Yuzvendra Chahal following a jostle with three other teams, they went aggressively after Kuldeep Yadav. And for a brief while, when the KKR table appeared indecisive, it seemed like the hammer would come down for the second time and allow the chinaman bowler to unite with his India spin partner.
But that didn’t quite materialise in the end, with Kuldeep returning to KKR. Day 2 brought better luck for RCB. Pawan Negi – who outperformed Chahal last season – was prised away for just 1 crore.
And finally, Washington Sundar was pocketed for just over double his base price – at 3.20 Crore – to bolster a specific aspect of a grossly inconsistent bowling attack.
RCB finished the 2017 season with the second-worst economy rate – 8.97 – in the first six overs, where T20 games are often won and lost. Chahal bowled 12 out of his 43.3 overs last season in the first six overs and conceded 112 runs in that phase at an economy rate of 9.34. In contrast, only 221 runs have come in the rest of the 31.3 overs at a little over 7 an over. Negi, who picked 16 wickets in 2017, has bowled only two overs in the first six. Though they accounted for 30 wickets together, they weren’t quite the answer to RCB starting trouble. And that’s where Washington comes in.
Washington may have very little experience, but relevance is key. “We played in the Nidahas trophy. He [Washington] bowled in the powerplay, and I got to bowl in the middle overs. So I have more options now. In earlier seasons, I was bowling in powerplay and had just two overs left. So now at least someone is there who can bowl in powerplay and I can bowl in middle-overs. So we have more options,” Chahal said in praise of his new bowling partner.
A lot of factors will come into play in the upcoming season. The average first-innings score in the IPL at the Chinnaswamy stadium dipped from 190-odd in 2016 to 140-odd in 2017, but the expectation is for the surface to revert to its 2016 self.
The pressure on the teenager then will be manifold. But there’s confidence in his own, current craft going into the season. “As a cricketer you want to keep trying things and want to see if you could get new things into your bowling. It is very important to know what’s important right now – for me what’s important is to do the things I’ve been doing pretty well. I just need to concentrate on doing those things. If I can be successful just doing those things, I can definitely do those things for a pretty long time,” Washington said on the sidelines of a practice session at his new home venue, whose small dimensions could be a deterrent for a bowler who finished his maiden IPL season with an enviable economy rate of 6.16.
And where variations are lacking, Washington is hoping to fill up with guile. “It is important to not be predictable. When an offspinner is bowling, as a batsman you know he’s going to bowl at 100ks on most of the deliveries, so it is important to bluff the batsmen at times.
“Flighting the ball in this particular format is difficult, but when you’re taking this challenge on, you have to be 100% sure of your strength, you need to execute that ball to 100% of your ability.”
“It is important to be a bit pro-active. And get one-up against the batsman. In terms of his mindset, what he’s trying to do or where he’s trying to hit you in the next ball. In terms of that, it is very important to be pro-active. That’s what I like to do. And so far, I think marginally I’ve been doing well in that particular aspect,” Washington said.
Even as RCB step into a new decade with a renewed itch to inaugurate a barren trophy cabinet, their new recruit sounds like he’s got it all figured out. All that remains now, is to walk the talk.