posted on 2019-06-28 11:11:00
posted by Kausthub Swaminathan
Remember almost a couple of years ago when Vijay Shankar was selected in an Indian squad for the first time, during the home Test series against Sri Lanka? His fielding ability as a substitute caught the eye of keen observers of cricket. From being used as a bowler, a pure batsman, and a batsman who bowls, his journey has come a complete circle. In India's first match of the Nidahas T20 Trophy he batted way down the order and didn't bowl his full quota of overs either.
When Rohit took over captaincy after Kohli left the tour, Shankar was a four-over bowler who batted at 8 or 9. Suddenly in the final he was sent in at 6, and we all know what happened. It has been a story of being there at the right time for him months after the debacle. He was on the fringes of the Indian team when controversial comments on a TV talk show by Hardik Pandya opened up the spot for him to make his ODI debut in Melbourne.
Shankar used the run of opportunities quite well with the bat, scoring a gritty 40 in Wellington and a free flowing one in Nagpur, both on challenging surfaces. He got decent scores, including yet another 40 in the T20Is in New Zealand. On the back of these performances he made the Indian World Cup squad. He pipped Rayudu as No.4 only due to his additional skills in bowling and fielding. Again, it took an injury to Shikhar Dhawan for him to make the playing XI in the tournament. But this time he doesn't seem to be making the most of the opportunity.
Shankar's bowling has been better than what he managed in his first few ODIs but that's not the primary skill he was selected for. Although he has shown glimpses of his ability with the bat he hasn't done justice to it. In the three innings he has batted so far in this world cup he has got starts but hasn't gone on. In the first of these knocks he could only manage a run-a-ball 15 not out coming in at the back end of the Indian innings.
In the thriller against Afghanistan, Shankar put on a decent partnership with Kohli to recover the innings, but got out on 29 trying to sweep an on-stump delivery across the line. From the solid way he went about things one would have expected a first half century and more. With players like Rishabh Pant and Dinesh Karthik waiting in the bench, he needs to convert the cameos into bigger scores. While Pant may not just walk into the XI, the experience and calmness that Karthik brings can propel him into the playing eleven ahead of the Tamil Nadu all-rounder if he doesn't fire now!
On Thursday too, he got out on 14 against West Indies, but this time to a good delivery. As with his selection into the World Cup squad, the reason that he might be picked in the XI again is his ability to give a few overs for Virat Kohli with the ball. Shankar's timely two wickets against Pakistan was a great boost to him and is just about keeping him in the XI. This wouldn't be for long as India need a solid team well in time for the knockouts, so he might get one more chance at the most.
If and when Vijay Shankar walks in to bat against England, it would be a pivotal innings which will decide his fate in this World Cup and probably beyond. Once the tournament gets over, players like Shreyas Iyer and Sanju Samson will no doubt get a look in, especially the former who is in the middle of a purple patch in domestic cricket. This is why Shankar needs to get his act together right away to ensure that he isn't replaced by these talented and deserving players, a very real possibility.