46 Runs, 2 Wickets – But Calm Likely to Win Shankar His WC Ticket
The 28-year-old’s all-round heroics at Nagpur could go a long way in earning him a seat on the flight to England.
On 18 March 2018, India celebrated one of their most stunning last-ball wins in international cricket, when Dinesh Karthik slapped a six with five runs needed off the final delivery of the Nidahas Trophy final against Bangladesh at Colombo.
Amid the ecstacy, one man, new to the big stage, found it difficult to enjoy.
Vijay Shankar had batted wearing India colours for the first time that night – his 19-ball struggle, yielding only 17 runs in the face of a climbing asking rate, had very nearly painted him as the ‘villain’ to a cricket-obsessed nation, before his senior state teammate bailed him, and the team, out.
A year is a long time in international cricket.
By 18 March 2019, India will have played their last game ahead of the ICC World Cup 2019; the team management, it is expected, will be close to narrowing down on the 15 men who will board the flight to England in May.
Vijay Shankar is more than likely to be on it.
Pressure, What Pressure?
To truly understand the weight of the task handled by Shankar in India’s nail-biting win over Australia at Nagpur on Tuesday, 5 March, a closer analysis of his bowling spells in international cricket is imperative.
The 28-year-old had featured in five ODIs since making his debut in Australia at the start of the year. Here’s what his figures, match-by-match, read:
- vs Australia, Melbourne: 6-0-23-0
- vs New Zealand, Napier: 4-0-19-0
- vs New Zealand, Mount Maunganui: 2-0-17-0
- vs New Zealand, Wellington: 4-0-19-0
- vs Australia, Hyderabad: 3-0-22-0
One way of looking at that, is to say he was given the ball on each occasion. Another way of looking at it, is that he had only once been trusted to bowl more than half his maximum possible quota (that too, by just one extra over).
At the end of the 49th over of the Australian innings, Shankar had bowled one over – conceding 13. The fifth bowler’s quota in India’s defense of a just-about-par score was being filled by Kedar Jadhav.
So at the point he was handed the ball by Virat Kohli (and the Indian think tank), Shankar’s career figures in ODIs read: 20 overs, 113 runs, ZERO wickets.
In the next three balls, with 10 runs to defend for the team, he struck twice.
The day after Mahashivratri, Shankar had arrived.
An Arrival Belated, but Deserved
At 28, Shankar is far from young by the definition of most newcomers in Indian cricket. The road to Team India has been a slow-burner, rather than the instant classic afforded to the likes of Rishabh Pant and Prithvi Shaw.
And it hasn’t been without its share of misfortune.
A knee injury in 2016 ruled Shankar out of India A’s tour of Australia. A certain Hardik Pandya replaced him in the squad – and never looked back.
The first international experience – the aforementioned Nidahas Trophy final – was an individual low despite a team high. Shankar’s woes against Mustafizur Rahman on that night in Colombo, where he consumed 11 dot balls in a 19-ball stay, stayed with him for some time.
His effort in the first half of proceedings at Nagpur, however, showed a quick learning of lessons.
He was ‘busy’ through his 41-ball stay, batting at number five in the presence of his captain. He failed to score off only 16 of those deliveries. No. 4 Ambati Rayudu, in comparison, played out 21 dot balls in his 32-ball 18.
Misfortune would come back to consume him, as it did the first time he batted in ODIs too.
In his first international innings in the 50-over game, Shankar had walked in with India perilously placed at 18/4, smack in the middle of a hostile Trent Boult-Matt Henry burst at Wellington. He pieced the innings together in a 98-run association with Rayudu, before being sold down the river and run-out for 45.
At Nagpur, a crisp straight drive off Kohli’s blade clipped Adam Zampa’s figures before hitting the stumps, with Shankar caught outside the non-striker’s end. He was four runs away from a half-century this time.
Ticket to England: Coming Soon?
That he’s an all-rounder – so treasured a commodity in Indian cricket – was helping Shankar’s cause even before this recent run in the playing XI. With 12 spots more or less fixed, the last month or two have been an exercise to fill the remaining berths.
In a puzzle to determine the best balance of the XV, the optimum combination to keep as many bases covered as possible, anyone who offers multiple roles is likely to benefit.
- Batting cover for the middle-order: Check.
- Big-hitting ability for the lower middle-order: Check.
- Back-up to a now injury-prone Hardik Pandya: Check.
- Fifth seam-bowling option: After Nagpur, Check.
Captain Kohli’s whole-hearted praise of his work in the second ODI, as heard post-match, would have come as music to his ears.
Vijay Shankar, all of a sudden, is ticking many boxes.
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