“Magical” is how Rohit Sharma explained Washington Sundar’s match-defining spell against Bangladesh, further establishing how unfazed 18-year-old’s burgeoning reputation over the last 12 months.

Washington’s displays have come at a time when Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal’s astounding success in limited-overs cricket forced finger spinners into the background recently, not even sparing seasoned match-winners in Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja. So far in the Nidahas series, Washington has picked up seven wickets in the four games to take India to the final, and it has come at a staggeringly good economy rate of 5.87.

As Washington was drawing rings around the Bangladesh and Sri Lankan batsmen with the ball, at the other end, pacer Mohammad Siraj was struggling for rhythm and was a bundle of nerves as Mushfiqur Rahim tore into him.

Surely, there are more virtues to the spinner than just courage, resolve and taking to international cricket like a duck to water. Even his celebrations after taking a wicket look pale in comparison to the World Cup final goalscorer type runs of South Africa’s Imran Tahir.

The parsimonious spinner

Washington Sundar celebrates a wicket with his teammates | Image credit: BCCI

In a format that is merciless on the bowlers, Washington is now Rohit’s go-to man. And quite amazingly, he has been called upon in what can be the death knell for a newcomer in international cricket – during the powerplay overs. In three of the four games India have played so far, he has added his name to the wickets column, stifling batsmen and enticing them to make rash decisions.

Rohit Sharma, at the post match presentation ceremony said, “He is never afraid of flighting the ball, sets his own field and it says a lot about an individual. It allows me also to breathe easy and set the field accordingly. In the series we played against Sri Lanka in India, we saw that from him and today was no different.” Strangely, all his international games so far have under the leadership of Rohit.

In his first match that Rohit mentioned, Washington made an instant impact. That too, after being entrusted to open the bowling: He conceded 22 runs with 11 dot balls and accounted for the wicket of the dangerous Kusal Perera.

Importantly, the Chennai lad has emerged trumps on surfaces that offered scant little for the bowler. The clear head and self belief of Washington could have got a better advertisement than the Indian Premier League last year, where he unexpectedly became one of Rising Pune Supergiant’s best performers holding his own in a star-studded team. In an arena where bowlers twice his age were getting picked apart, Washington was Steve Smith’s trump card, picking up eight wickets in 11 games and importantly, at an economy rate of just 6.16.

Where does he get it right?

Like most Twenty20 tournaments, the tri-nation event in Sri Lanka has also been largely batting friendly. The fortunes of India’s pacers have been a mixed bag, especially in the economy rate column. Despite his wickets, Jaydev Unadkat was replaced by Siraj against Bangladesh while Chahal has been deployed in the middle-overs. Being the spin spearhead, the leg-spinner has tasted adequate success so far but still shows the occasional tendency to drag the ball a bit too short, allowing batsmen the time to pull effectively.

Washington Sundar gainst Sri Lanka | Image courtesy: ESPNCricinfo

During India’s six-wicket win against Sri Lanka, Washington ended up with figures of 2/21. It was his control that stood out here. Against the right-handers, he showed a tendency to vary pace strictly off a good length. With batsmen making last-minute adjustments, there were occasions he went full too, with excellent results. The above graph also shows his tendency to go slightly shorter against left-handers but he never lost track of the lines that chose to operate.

Washington Sundar against Bangladesh | Image courtesy: ESPNCricinfo

Against Bangladesh, Washington was bowling on a flatter wicket. When India batted, there was little evidence of turn. All his three wickets on Wednesday – Tamim Iqbal, Liton Das and Soumya Sarkar – were beaten by a hint of spin. Washington’s plans were not dissimilar to what he had executed against the Lankans earlier. Taking the pace off the ball to the tactic that Chahal would also incorporate when he came on. While his lines were impeccable, the ability to read batsmen and extract turn spoke volumes of Washington’s quick-thinking abilities too.

Compare this with the performance of the Bangladeshi bowlers barring Rubel Hossain – they were too full or too short and failed allowed a free run to Rohit and Suresh Raina, both of whom were circumspect early on in their innings.

A fringe player like Axar Patel may have to wait longer as Washington continues to throw his hat in the ring in the long line of promising next-gen Indian talents. Tougher challenges await him, far more punishing than clearing a Yo-Yo test.

For the moment, India’s youngest T20I bowler is turning heads, and it is not because of his unusual first name.