‘If given a chance, I am ready to bat at any position. I batted at number three in New Zealand in my last game for India in the T-20s. Numbers don’t really matter.’
New Delhi: The Indian team were struggling to get the right combination in the middle-order ahead of the World Cup, having tried multiple players for the crucial number four spot. An off-field controversy that ruled Hardik Pandya out saw Vijay Shankar making a comeback into the national team.
Shankar stitched crucial partnerships and helped India sail through in tough conditions against New Zealand side. It seemed he had further cemented his place and won the management’s confidence.
Consequently, the selection panel, headed by MSK Prasad, famously labeled him as a “3-dimensional-player” while reasoning his selection ahead of out-of-form Ambati Rayudu for the fourth position in the World Cup team.
There was a sense of poetic justice for Shankar after “sleepless nights” post Nidhas Trophy final match where he consumed career-threatening four dot balls against Bangladesh. Not many would remember that the all-rounder had won Man of the Match award in the league stage of the tournament.
It still is a matter of debate whether Shankar’s selection was the right call for a tournament as big as World Cup without providing him a long stint and time to settle down for the fourth position. But he did come up with decent performances, especially against Pakistan (2-22) at Manchester’s Old Trafford.
Shankar looked in decent touch with the bat as well but suffered toe injury during a practice session before he could come up with career-defining score. Shankar scored 58 runs at an average of 29 in the three innings he played.
For some, Shankar’s story may sound like a short-lived sweet slumber, but the Tamil Nadu mainstay is still confident of national reckoning.
The Sunday Guardian spoke to Vijay Shankar over telephone where he discussed highs and lows of his career, his journey after the World Cup and whether he is still willing to bat at the fourth spot, a position for which India still hasn’t found any answers.
Q. How has the journey been post the World Cup?
A. It has been a good journey. I have learned a lot in the last few months. I have been doing my work properly and trying to contribute to the team as much as I can. It’s very important to adapt to the team’s requirement.
Q. How would you analyse your performance in the recently held Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy and Vijay Hazare Trophy?
A. It went really well for me. I think I averaged over 50 in the Vijay Hazare tournament and the most important thing in a tournament like Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy is the strike rate, which has been around 150. In one game, I scored at a strike rate of 200 while in another it was around 170. What I can focus on right now is to finish well in the last two overs. It will help me improve and become a better player.
Q. Now with Shivam Dube in contention and Hardik Pandya recovering, do you think the route back into the Indian team has got tougher for you? Do you see them as a competition?
A. I don’t see it as a competition. I believe in my work ethics and follow my work routine. It is very important for me to keep doing what I do and perform again and again. I cannot think of other cricketers and I generally don’t compare myself with others. My only focus is to improve as a player.
Q. Do you ever think you were mishandled or not given a long rope?
A. Definitely not. I don’t see things like that. I have done reasonably well wherever I have batted. I need to grab opportunities with whatever I am getting. I bowled reasonably well against Australia and Pakistan. What I can think of in hindsight is couple of matches where I got run out in 40s. My first innings in New Zealand and the one in Nagpur. Sometimes, luck is also very important. These things are not in my hands. When you play for your country, these things happen. I should be looking to get better. I can’t be harsh on myself.
Q. Number four conundrum has not been solved yet. Are you confident of batting in that position if given another go?
A. If given a chance, I am ready to bat at any position. The last time I played for India in the T-20s, I batted at number three in New Zealand. Numbers don’t really matter. It is about adjusting quickly to the conditions and team’s requirements. For Tamil Nadu, I have been playing at different batting orders at different stages of the game. I just look to adapt quickly and give my best.
Q. What was the message from the team management particularly from Virat Kohli and Ravi Shastri during World Cup?
A. They said I was batting really well. I was timing the ball and rotating the strike well. It wasn’t an easy wicket during Afghanistan’s game. I think I had a good partnership with Virat (Virat Kohli). It’s just that getting 30s and 40s was not enough. 80s and 100s would probably have changed…won’t say my career because there is still a lot of cricket left in me. But yes, things would have been different if I had got a couple of big knocks in the World Cup.
Q. There was a lot of controversy with plenty of players in the flanks for the number four spot, Rishabh Pant being one of them. Were you under pressure after getting selected for the national team in the World Cup?
A. I was never under pressure. I knew it would be the biggest thing if I do well. Things would be different if I don’t. It’s not that I was under too much pressure. Representing your country in the World Cup is massive but I thought I was in a pretty good space. I started good in the first couple of games against Afghanistan and West Indies. Kemar Roach bowled a brilliant delivery which led to my dismissal and I think it can happen to any cricketer. Sometimes, credit also should be given to the bowlers.
Rishabh Pant thing came off when I got injured and ruled out for a few weeks. I generally don’t like to compare myself with others because it’s not going to help me in anyway. I have my own specialties.
Q. Your wicket on the first ball against Pakistan is still fresh in everyone’s memories. Was the delivery premediated? What were you thinking when you were handed the ball in a high pressure game?
A. Everything happened so quickly. Even I did not expect to bowl at that time. Bhuvi got injured and I had to bowl. To pick up a wicket on the very first ball on debut against Pakistan, I had a good feeling at the end of the game. I just wanted to bowl at good length. It wasn’t premediated. It swung a bit.
Q. What has been the highest and lowest point in your career?
A. My highest point was when I got into the Indian side. There are so many things I can think of for the lowest point. A lot of times things have changed because of my injuries. I can understand if someone is getting a muscle injury or something like that…which I can at least work on. I can’t really do much with the injuries I have. I had a cut recently and during the World Cup, it was toe injury during practice that got me out of the tournament. Everybody thought it would heal in 3 weeks but it took almost five weeks for me to make a comeback. It was on the great toe which takes the entire load.