“Hence, at this point odds seem to be favouring Shankar over Jadeja for that one World Cup spot. But the audition is still on the medium pace all-rounder needs to be on his toes in order to keep his aspirations alive”
From a shaky innings in the Nidahas Trophy final last year to that nerve-racking match winning bowling effort in Nagpur couple of days back – as a cricketer, it seems Vijay Shankar has come of age. Psychologically evolving from a rank newcomer in the team, who cracked under pressure against an inspired Bangladesh bowling unit on that night at Premadasa, the Tamil Nadu boy at present can perform when chips are down.
Since his comeback series in Australia, Shankar has shown that time and again, mostly with the bat.
Based on his utility showing in the recent games, the 28-year old has almost forced himself in the World Cup scheme of things. And now following his heroics with the ball in the last over on Tuesday, many in the fraternity including the author consider Shankar’s presence in England is an absolute necessity.
When this piece is being written, the youngster is just 15 international matches old – six ODIs and nine T20Is. Hence, some might feel that he may not have the kind of international exposure, which is expected of an Indian World Cup probable. And if he gets picked in the 15-member squad as a second all-rounder, much experienced Ravindra Jadeja is the most likely candidate to miss out.
So, is it worthy enough for the team management to take this huge gamble?
Well, logically yes.
First of all, with the presence of wrist-spin duo Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal in the bowling attack, a third specialist spinner on English conditions, will be wasted. Remember, Kader Jadhav is also expected to be in the team and he is a more than decent part-time off-spinner.
Hence, even if Jadeja is in the squad, he is unlikely to get a game in the World Cup under normal circumstances. And without his bowling skills, the southpaw can not make it in the team purely on the basis of his batsmanship.
In hindsight, with his technical prowess Shankar not only can feature in the XI as a specialist batsman, he can even bat at top four. Most importantly, this youngster exactly knows how to bat according to the match situation. With his straight bat as well as classy punch shots, he can be the anchor, and if needed Shankar can change gears within a short notice.
In fact, the think-tank considers him as an option in the top five. Perhaps, that’s why in one of the T20I fixtures in New Zealand, Shankar was sent to bat at No.3 and he responded with a well composed 43 off 28 balls. Furthermore, the maturity and the class Shankar had shown during the course his 41-ball 46 in Nagpur, speaks a lot about his batting skills.
Vijay Shankar's 46 (41) today was seriously promising for India, playing an extremely low 4.1% false shots.
The last time an Indian who wasn't Rohit, Dhawan or Kohli made that many runs, with that much control, was Hardik Pandya in the Champions Trophy Final. #INDvAUS
— The Cricket Prof. (@CricProf) March 5, 2019
Nevertheless, with ball in hand Shankar has his limitations, there is no denial to this fact. Like Hardik Pandya, he can not hit the pitch hard and cross 135 KMPH mark on a consistent basis. But despite that, the Chennai boy is good enough to bowl 5-6 quiet overs in the middle. The good thing is that, Shankar knows about his limitations and bowls well within himself. And his form with the bat has contributed to gain confidence as a bowler, which helped him to stay calm and composed under pressure in Nagpur.
Finally, if both Pandya and Shankar go to England, the Indian think-tank can think of using them as back-ups for their much talked about pace-trio – Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammed Shami. Otherwise playing nine league games within a month can make these injury-prone pacers vulnerable. And that can hurt India’s chances immensely.
Hence, at this point odds seem to be favouring Shankar over Jadeja for that one World Cup spot. But the audition is still on the medium pace all-rounder needs to be on his toes in order to keep his aspirations alive.