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ICC World Cup 2019: Vijay Shankar offers fresh dimension

Four balls into Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s third over, India’s opening bowler strained his hamstring in his delivery stride and limped off. Towards the very hazardous crease that felled Kumar, Shankar ran in. And first ball, he had trapped Imam-ul-Haq.

cricket Updated: Jun 20, 2019 08:04 IST
Aditya Iyer (Chief cricket writer)
Aditya Iyer (Chief cricket writer)
Hindustan Times, Southampton
ICC World Cup 2019,World Cup 2019,World Cup
File image of Vijay Shankar(Action Images via Reuters)

It couldn’t have been easy being Vijay Shankar—surely not before he made his World Cup debut on Sunday. For a man who had featured in only single-digit ODIs until then, and single-digit T20Is too, the all-rounder from Tamil Nadu had somehow managed to associate himself with problems more than performances. When someone who had only watched him in his short international career thought of Shankar, they invariably thought of the Nidahas Trophy final; or of Shankar making the World Cup squad in place of a proper batsman in Ambati Rayudu, or of Rayudu’s resultant ‘3D glasses’ jibe. (Complete coverage of ICC World Cup 2019)

Through all of this, Shankar did the only thing he possibly could; put his head down and practise hard at the nets. On the eve of the India-Pakistan game, he padded up in front of some fifty journalists for his batting session and stroked the ball cleanly on Old Trafford’s training wickets. Then, he slipped into the main ground and bowled for a long while at the single stump.

By this point Shankar was perhaps already informed that he was going to be in the playing eleven for the game against Pakistan. But Shankar would’ve trained just as sincerely, given the role that his personal nets—erected on the terrace of his Chennai home—has played in his drastic development with bat and ball. It is rather easy to forget that the man on the verge of his World Cup debut had only played his first ODI four months ago.

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It couldn’t have been easy being Vijay Shankar even when he walked out to bat against Pakistan.

When he descended the dressing room stairs in the 46th over, at No. 6, India were two runs short of 300. Shankar now had to juggle between playing his shots and giving his captain Virat Kohli, well set on 67, the strike. He struggled to do either for whatever rhythm he managed to find after six balls was extinguished with the rain that sent the players scurrying off the field. And when he returned, he finished with a run-a-ball 15—not bad but not ideal for the situation either.

“In the back of my mind there was a slight thought that I wasn’t connecting properly,” Shankar later told us at the mixed zone. “It happens. Maybe after a couple of innings when I have some flow, things will be totally different.” To make a difference with the bat, Shankar will have to wait at least until Saturday, when India take on Afghanistan in Southampton. But with the ball, he has already proved he could deliver; it was also the first evidence that his time to be remembered for his performances is not far away.

Shankar wasn’t even supposed to be bowling when his moment in the sun (under the clouds and aided by artificial lights, if we are to be accurate) arrived. Four balls into Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s third over, India’s opening bowler strained his hamstring in his delivery stride and limped off. Towards the very hazardous crease that felled Kumar, Shankar ran in. And first ball, he had trapped Imam-ul-Haq.

“I was so blank, because I wasn’t expecting it,” Shankar said of his reaction to taking a wicket with his very first ball in a World Cup.

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But because of it, he was expecting to do well with the ball and make a real case for a permanent position in India’s playing eleven at the World Cup. “It was swinging a bit for me so I just thought I should hit the right areas after that special moment,” he said.

Against Pakistan, Shankar’s bowling performance was more than about just the first ball. The team management would’ve noticed the benefits of playing two fast bowling all-rounders in the team in these English conditions.

For, in the course of an evening where one pace mainstay injured himself and the other, Jasprit Bumrah, was experiencing a rare off-day (0/52 in 8 overs), Shankar and Hardik Pandya pulled up the slack. Between them they took four out of the six wickets that fell and Shankar’s figures of 2/22 were the tidiest of the innings.

Now, it was a little easier being Vijay Shankar. And at the mixed zone when he was asked in Tamil if he ever dreamed of debuting against Pakistan and doing what he did with the ball, Shankar confidently replied: “Yes, I did.”

First Published: Jun 19, 2019 22:02 IST