“He is going to be one of India’s leading allrounders,” Shastri said on ESPNcricinfo’s analysis show T20 Time:Out. “He is the future. You have [Ravindra] Jadeja today. Three years down the line, if Jadeja is still fit, he will play. There is Axar [Patel] around. But this guy is your premier allrounder across all three formats of the game. Hear what I am saying. Three formats of the game.
“This guy is a serious cricketer. He is still very young, he has got to understand his own game, how good a player he is. Shot selection will come, especially for the white-ball format. [If he] works on his fitness so that he is not injury-prone, India have got a serious cricketer in him. Across all formats of the game. I think it is up to him really to do the hard yards on fitness. No excuse. He can’t depend on X, Y, Z. He has to look at himself in the mirror and say I want to work hard and I want to be the leading allrounder in Indian cricket over the next three years. And he can do it. Easy.”
Shastri said Washington was an easy fit in the Test side, but needed some work on his batting in T20s. “T20 is again shot selection,” Shastri said. “In Test cricket he can occupy that No. 6 position in the future, 6 or 7. He bats, where he goes as the batting allrounder. Overseas he can bowl you those overs in a specialist spinner’s place and gives that balance. In India he can bat at no. 6. You are allowed to play two extra spinners. That’s how important a player he is.
“In T20 cricket he can bowl. No problem with his bowling. It is just understanding which player, which lengths. Batting. It is his shot selection, the ability is there. Danny [Vettori] mentioned that strike off [Kagiso] Rabada. How many people can play that shot? I know Wankhede Stadium well. When it hits that top tier halfway through, on the off side, off a fast bowler, off the back foot, that is an unbelievable shot. The guy can play shots. When I saw that shot, I was thinking of the hook he played off Pat Cummins at the Gabba. That six when we were chasing. That shot went 10-15 rows back. This guy has the ability. He has to be properly groomed, educated on how good he is. Especially when it comes to shot selection,. He is a serious cricketer, that kid.”
Vettori, the co-panellist, said Washington needed more time in first-class cricket to become that No. 6 batter. “He sometimes has the technique of someone who doesn’t back himself to hit the big balls,” Vettori said. “You see how much room he gives himself and backs away. But Ravi is right, the skillset is there. He can actually stay still and still have the power to hit it. I have a question around, see someone like Jadeja who has built his batting around first-class cricket. He has faced thousands and thousands of balls.
“Does Wahsington Sundar get enough first-class cricket to develop his batting? Because all the tailender batters who have grown from say No. 8 or No. 7 to a genuine No. 6, it is on the back of thousands and thousands of runs in domestic cricket. And Jadeja is the best example. Maybe not runs, but the opportunity. And if Washington is always in the white-ball team, always in large squad, he may never get that opportunity. That will be to the detriment of his batting ability.”
Shastri said Washington needed not just first-class experience but in the upper middle order. “I had a chat with Washy when I was coach,” Shastri said. “I said you can’t bat later than No. 4 for your state. You are good enough at that level to get hundreds. You know what domestic cricket dishes out. There are a lot of people trying to occupy 1, 2, 3, 4 who are not good enough. Here is a bloke who bats at 6, on debut, gets a 70 against Australia, then gets a 90 against England to win us the series. These are serious innings under pressure. If you can do it for India, at that number, he has to bat for his state no later than 4, okay latest 5, but no later than that.”
Washington has played only 17 first-class matches, four of them Test matches. Even when he debuted for India, he had not played any first-class cricket in over three years. Since then he is yet to play a first-class match for Tamil Nadu, but he also spends a lot of time touring with the India white-ball teams. The last 18 months have been tough for him with an injury ruling him out of T20 World Cup and then a split webbing in the middle of the IPL possibly cost him a shot at India selection.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo