India’s two debutants in the fourth and final Test against Australia at The Gabba are both teammates in the Tamil Nadu Ranji Trophy team but have played very little first class cricket.
Off-spinner Washington Sundar made his first-class debut in 2016 but played the last of his 12 first-class games over three years back. He suddenly found himself in the playing XI in a crucial Test and managed to pick the wicket of the dangerous Steve Smith.
Left-arm fast bowler T Natarajan, on the other hand, has played 20 first-class games over the last six years and played his last one, only last season.
The two shared three important wickets of Smith, centurion Marnus Labuschagne and Matthew Wade, as India managed to restrict Australia at 274/5 at the end of the first day’s play in the fourth and final Test.
“I have always felt my skill levels are good at red ball. I have bowled a lot at first-class level and definitely lot in first division league in Chennai (days’ format games played with red ball), so I have bowled a lot red ball. Definitely I was waiting for this opportunity. The last couple of months I was here, I did get to bowl a lot of balls and get a chance to improve on my skill level. It was just quantity (number of overs) and I didn’t really change anything technically,” said Sundar after the day’s play while speaking to the media during a virtual interaction.
“If you see everyone, they all have done really well in first-class cricket and it is an amazing opportunity to represent India and do really well for the Test team. More than inexperience, guys are all excited and have done well coming over here so definitely we have had time to practice and improve skill levels as well. It was an amazing opportunity for all of us. That’s how everyone looked at this game,” Sundar added.
Sundar had, before this match, played one ODI and 26 T20Is. While there were speculations that he would be played, it seemed unlikely that he would be picked ahead of Kuldeep Yadav who had taken a five-wicket haul in the last Test he played, two years ago at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
However, off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin’s success against Smith and Labuschagne may have prompted the team management to throw Sundar at the forefront.
“We had some plans for Steve Smith. But this is a different game altogether. The last game was different (Sydney, where Smith scored 131 and 81). Entire conditions were different. This game is different. I had to bowl good balls over and over again to get him out. It happened,” said Sundar, who bowled 12 dot balls at the Aussie batting mainstay before getting him out off a drive that went straight to Rohit Sharma at short mid-wicket.
“Yes, there a bit of nervousness but more than that, it is an amazing opportunity…we had some plans going for Smith and Labuschagne. The way I got Smudge (Smith) out. Yes felt good bowling today, first wicket definitely great,” said Sundar.