CHENNAI: Since making his first-class debut for Tamil Nadu in 2012, Vijay Shankar has had the highest of highs and lowest of lows for state and country — a maiden World Cup match against Pakistan, a Vijay Hazare title run and a one-run loss to Karnataka in the Syed Mushtaq Ali final in 2019.
The one common theme in that time, however, has been Tamil Nadu’s less than ideal returns in the Ranji Trophy (one final). In an interview with The New Indian Express, the all-rounder gets intimate with TN’s recent fortunes, how he adapts according to the situation, his biggest regret so far and what he has been up to during the lockdown. Excerpts...
Only one place has to start really... how have you been spending time during the lockdown?
Watching movies, doing some workouts with my friends everyday... In the mornings, we spend about an hour training. Apart from that, I give myself time to think about a few games that I was part of. In the evenings, I again do a bit of fitness training or some shadow practice.
In your Twitter bio, you describe yourself as a fitness freak. So not going to the gym... how big a challenge has it been to maintain it?
I train with my friends online. We just do a video call and all of us have our fitness programmes that we follow. You don’t need to have much equipment for that. There are a lot of exercises that can keep you fit, bodyweight exercises for example. We have been doing it for the last three and a half weeks and there has definitely been a difference.
Among cricketers, you must be better off... what with having nets on your terrace?
I’m not using that facility right now, because you need someone to help you out. Also, it is time for me to, you know, we all miss cricket but then, I feel, we should just give it a complete break so that we can get some new ideas. Related to cricket, I have only been doing some shadow practice and visualisation.
Can you elaborate? What are the new ideas you have been working on?
As cricketers, there will always be things to know, things to improve and work on. There is always a chance that you can become a better cricketer tomorrow. Right now, there are a lot of things that I can really give enough time on to think about — what I have done, where I have gone wrong and what I could have done be it the mental or the technical aspects.
When the virus broke out in February, you were one of the many athletes outside (India A tour of New Zealand). What was the mood in the camp then? Were you guys talking about it then?
When we were in New Zealand, there was some talk that a virus was spreading in China. In New Zealand, you can see a lot of Chinese people... I heard that during the Chinese New Year, a lot of people from there used to come for the holidays. This time it was pretty quiet. The New Zealand government also blocked people travelling from China I think. So it wasn’t crowded... we knew there was something going on with corona and all but we weren’t aware that this would turn out to be such a big thing then.
Away from lockdown and the virus, what were you feeling this time last year? Were you looking at a possible World Cup place?
No, I was thinking of doing well for SRH. I am someone who likes to focus on the things that I have done and I wasn’t worrying about the selection and those things. Only when they announced the team officially did I say ‘okay, am in the team’. Before that, I didn’t think much about it.
Did Virat Kohli or the selectors tell you about the role they expected you to perform in England?
When you join the Indian team, it’s very clear. I know for a fact that if I play, I will go in at No 4 if there is an early wicket. If not, I will have to be flexible enough. I think that was very clear.
How do you adapt, how do you prepare yourself mentally?
I think I just got used to it by playing for Tamil Nadu. Even in the last Vijay Hazare meet, I kind of kept switching my batting order between 4 and 6. It’s not easy but because of this experience, I was able to understand the fact that I should be able to bat anywhere. Initially, it was hard for me. Then I stopped cribbing, I stopped thinking much about it before taking it as an experience that was going to help my game going forward.
Did you speak to anybody who had done this role previously?
I don’t know how many have done this (shifting batting order) frequently. I think I should find something for myself because it’s something which has been happening for me and what I should be aware of is the mindset I’m in at that particular point. You might be skillful technically, but if you are not mentally ready to adapt, that’s when you find things are different.
Speaking about the World Cup itself, taking a wicket of your first ball must have been special...
Yeah, that as well as making my WC debut against Pakistan. It (the wicket) happened very quickly. The captain might sometimes tell you in advance but sometimes a bowler might get injured and you should be ready. That’s what happened. I was standing at point and Bhuvi (Bhuvneshwar Kumar) got injured and they just called me up. All I was thinking was ‘just bowl in the right areas’.
Obviously you have made your mark in white-ball cricket but you received your maiden call-up in red-ball cricket. So do you find that amusing?
I have been working on all aspects of the game and formats. I have been doing well consistently for India A, so all that actually gave me this call-up. If I had my Test debut, it would have been memorable but nothing’s over. I just keep trying to do my best to get my Test cap.
From batting to your bowling, ever felt that you have been under-utilised?
Definitely feel bad for that because I have always been the 4th or 5th or 6th bowler for Tamil Nadu which has always been a tough thing for me. I have learnt to come out of it. I have learnt to handle those situations. Whenever I get the ball, I should be ready to do well. I got into that mode a little later. If you ask me, as a cricketer it is very important to keep doing things regularly for them to be at their best. Maybe if I had bowled more, I would have been a better bowler.
Would you say that’s your biggest regret so far?
I cannot talk about the Indian team because when you go there, you should be ready to adapt. I have been so flexible for Tamil Nadu whenever I have batted. When it comes to bowling, I bowl whenever it is needed. Otherwise, I have not bowled ever since I made my Tamil Nadu debut so those things I have regretted... but then regretting it is not going to help me in any way.
Any idea why that’s the case?
I have no idea. Maybe how people see you is also one thing. Like, they may have a different perception or there may be a lot of bowlers in the team or all-rounders. All these can be a factor. All I can do is keep working on it so when the time comes, I will be ready.
What do you think ails TN cricket?
I think there have been many good things about TN cricket. Last year, we reached the Vijay Hazare and Mushtaq Ali final. Three years ago, we won the Vijay Hazare and Deodhar Trophy. Ranji Trophy... I think everybody would be dreaming of winning it. All I can say is, in the future we will look to win it. We have one of the best teams, some of us have played for the country. If you have represented your country, people will think why we haven’t won Ranji Trophy. There are a lot of experienced players and, together with the youngsters, we can think of winning it.
When it comes to red-ball cricket especially, do you think TN has a fear of failure?
Fear of failure... I don’t think that will affect anyone because most of us would have got quite a number of matches. I think we just have to think about winning matches. By the time this corona thing ends and people ask us to start practising, we will all think of winning Ranji Trophy. I think we will be able to get closer to it.
Your SRH teammate David Warner has recently been on TikTok with his own unique dancing moves. Do you have any similar ideas?
Dancing? Me? No, no. Just training, listening to music and chilling