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Of formats, doormats and Vijay Shankar – the one who came in unannounced.

by Gaurav Sethi

Oh dear, Vijay Shankar had a poor IPL. So poor, he went largely unnoticed. He hardly batted, he bowled even less. That he played as many as 15 games is an anomaly.

Just as Suresh Raina often appears to be India’s most enthusiastic player ever, Shankar could pass off as its least. He doesn’t pat players on their backside. What, he barely pats anyone. In return, it doesn’t appear as if anyone pats him. He seems far away, patrolling some boundary on a far off frontier, all by himself and his cutting chai. But if there’s an intruder, his eyes will shoot up from that chai and he will chase him down to the ends of the earth. Much like balls on the boundary. From his stupor, he instantly charges, chasing balls, much like cats chase rats.

They will say, if they haven’t already, that Vijay Shankar is an honest cricketer. That he is a trier. He gives it his all. That means little.

They said Vijay Shankar should never have been playing this World Cup. Not after the IPL he had.

Just as the IPL has created a supply chain of young, Indian cricketers, and forced us to take notice; it has forced us to scramble formats. Before the IPL, Virat Kohli commented that performance in the league will not impact World Cup selection.

Vijay Shankar’s name was in the World Cup squad. Nothing he did or didn’t do in the league altered that.

However, his name was not in the starting XI in India’s first match. Runs for KL Rahul in a warmup only added to his reputation. He slid in at number four, the position with a bamboo door.

But after Shikhar Dhawan’s injury, someone patted Shankar on the shoulder and said, “you’re playing tomorrow as a specialist fielder”. Shankar was drafted. Not as a player that India wanted but one they needed. He would be called upon much as one Subramaniam Badrinath was by CSK – if an opener and Raina fell early. The No. 4 batsman when the going wasn’t so good. Otherwise, you’re good to go when everyone else is gone. That could be as low as No. 6 or 7.

Against Pakistan, Hardik Pandya got groovy at four. Dhoni at five. Surprise, surprise, Vijay Shankar at six.    

Vijay Shankar’s beard is nothing like that of his teammates. His beard is more second year engineering than man in blue. On some days, Shankar leaves the hostel and shines.

Before that gloomy day in June at Old Trafford, Vijay Shankar had never played Pakistan before. But out of nowhere, the sun snuck through and so did he.

Bhuvneshwar Kumar walked off with more intent than Vijay Shankar walked on to finish that hamstrung over. What is intent? Shankar seemed secure to finish that fifth over. He didn’t have to worry whether his first ball should be quicker or slower, his speeds don’t have that variation. It would be either in the high 120s or the low 130s. It wouldn’t have the zip or bounce of Bumrah nor the exacting lines of Bhuvi.

Before Shankar was called to bowl those two deliveries, Pakistan was 13/0 off 4.3 overs. Two quicks at the top of their mental game were setting it up, ball after ball, more often than not, outside off.

Little did they know they were setting it up for Vijay Shankar’s first ball. It didn’t go past Imam-ul-Haq’s bat. It didn’t go past Imam-ul-Haq’s pads. It was fuller, possibly slower than anything bowled so far.

Haq went one way, the ball the other. Shankar’s arms appealed in a near perfect Y. Had it not been given, would it have been reviewed? Was it pitching outside leg? Was it hitting?

It didn’t matter. Pakistan did not review. It pitched in line and was hitting leg. Vijay Shankar had just taken his first wicket in a World Cup, his third in an ODI, in the fifth over versus Pakistan.

Virat Kohli could not believe it. In what will go down as the non-cricketing moment of the match, Kohli’s cracked up reaction summed it all up. in words, possibly –ISNE...Isne wicket lee...isne" (THIS…this has taken a wicket…this!”

Before Shankar, Kedar Jadhav’s wickets would evoke such hilarity.

Close to thirty overs later, Shankar took Pakistan’s sixth and last wicket – knocking over their captain, Sarfaraz Ahmed. In what could well be his last game against India.

Will Shankar play Pakistan again? Shankar only made his ODI debut in January this year. More in reaction to the gap left by Hardik Pandya’s misdemeanours.  

In 10 matches so far, he’s batted six times. Twice each at five, six and seven.

India is yet to lose a match where Shankar has not been called on to bat. When he bats, and is dismissed, there’s a Greek tragedy about his walk back.

Who more than Shankar would know, the opportunities coming his way will be no more than a trickle. What he makes of them will either define him as that first wicket guy against Pakistan or India’s wild card that came off at the World Cup.

Either way, Vijay Shankar has just the right lack of pace and aggression to be Venkatesh Prasad's true successor. Or Madan Lal’s? Or Roger Binny’s?

All had their World Cup moments and Shankar just had his. You know. You saw. As did that guy in his 3D glasses.

First published here

1 comment:

Saurabh jain said...

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