SOUTHAMPTON: This was in October last year at the Chennai airport. Selected for the Deodhar Trophy in New Delhi, a tall and well-built youngster was sipping an orange refresher waiting for his flight. Not a soul recognised him. He had already played for India in five T20 games, other than making a few appearances in the Indian Premier League for Sunrisers Hyderabad.
If he is seen again in such circumstances in a crowded place, chances are high that he will draw attention along with hordes who seek selfies with celebrities. He may even get mobbed, considering the frenzy that surrounds India stars back home. It has taken longer than he had expected, but after stepping up to bowl in place of an injured Bhuvneshwar Kumar in a World Cup game against Pakistan and taking a wicket with his first delivery, Vijay Shankar has arrived.
In the XI as a floater in the batting as well as bowling department, who doesn’t have a fixed position or role and is expected to perform as per what the situation demands, the all-rounder from Tamil Nadu is candid enough to admit that even he was taken aback by the instant impact he made in a high-pressure game. Pakistan were still to lose a wicket and replacing one of the main bowlers in the middle of an over is not something players prepare for.
“The first delivery was a surprise for me as well,” said Vijay with a broad smile after the match. It wasn’t a deadly delivery, but full and moved a tad towards leg after pitching and forced left-hander Imam-ul-Haq to play down the wrong line. “It’s a rare scenario when you replace an injured bowler and get a wicket with the first ball. It’s definitely a special thing. Every bowler wants to take a wicket in a World Cup game. We need to take wickets for the country. To do it first ball was special indeed.”
Known more as a batsman who could bowl a few overs when he was first given the new ball about four years ago in a Ranji Trophy match where Tamil Nadu played four specialist spinners, Vijay has made that opportunity count. He isn’t the sort who makes heads turn by taking wickets by the bagful. Rather, he has the ability to chip in with a few overs which got him into the India A team, from where he made the most of the opportunities that came his way.
Perhaps conscious of the batsman-first tag, Vijay reminds one that he has worked on the other facet of his game, when asked if he had foreseen a day when his bowling at the international level would be talked about ahead of his primary strength. “I have been batting well and bowling is something that I know makes me a handy option. It’s always important to keep improving in all the aspects of my game. If I keep improving, I will be ready when the satiation comes. That’s what happened (in the Pakistan match). It was important that I worked hard to be ready for the situation.”
Having ticked what many thought would be the difficult box, Vijay now faces another test those picked to bat in a specialist’s position usually do not. He is in the XI to bat at No 4. If India get big partnerships for the first two wickets like in the last two matches, bigger hitters like Hardik Pandya and MS Dhoni would be sent ahead of him. So the 28-year-old has to be ready to bat at 4 and also lower down when there are fewer deliveries to face.
“I am ready to play that role where one has to take off soon after coming in. I have batted No 6 against Australia and here also (in the Pakistan game). I am someone who will be batting everywhere. So it’s about being ready for all the eventualities and be prepared to bat in different positions,” he said. If he does that and gets his act right, Vijay may well have to be ready also for a situation when he is seen at a crowded place, drawing attention. That eventuality might need a different kind of preparation though.