Vijay Shankar used to bowl off-spin until he was 20. Now, at 26, it is primarily his medium pace bowling skills, which has earned him a call-up in the national team. Yes, Shankar averages 49.14 with the bat at the First-Class level but his sudden selection in the Test squad for the ongoing Sri Lanka series is a result of Indian team’s quest for a pace bowling all-rounder. Considering the fact that the team will be mostly touring overseas for the next 18 months, the think-tank wants to groom a back-up for Hardik Pandya and with his recent all-round show for Tamil Nadu and at the India A level, Shankar seems like the ideal person to fit into this role.
On the penultimate day before the Nagpur Test, the youngster seemed to be quite busy in the nets. He batted and bowled during the practice session on Thursday under the watchful eyes of Ravi Shastri, Sanjay Bangar and skipper Virat Kohli. Later, in his pre-match presser Kohli spoke highly about the all-rounder.
“He [Shankar] has earned his spot,” Kohli said, “We wanted to look at another all-rounder keeping in mind that’s a very important aspect of the team going forward. Obviously, Hardik is in our scheme of things as our first all-rounder But, we need to, obviously, find out more people who have that capability and whom we can groom and make as back-ups for all-rounder’s slot, which is very very crucial for us when we travel abroad.
“That is the whole idea of bringing him in and keeping him in the setup and making him familiar with what’s going on here and making him understand what he needs to work on and look at his game as well. He is a pretty balanced cricketer, he is a very composed, he is handy with the ball, he can easily give you 10-12 overs a day and he is very solid with the bat. I just saw him at the nets. Big moment for him.”
However, eventually Shankar didn’t make it to the playing eleven in Nagpur, still, the dressing room experience will be really helpful for him in order to find his feet at this level. India have one more Test left in the series, followed by the limited-overs fixtures. During this phase, if the all-rounder gets a look in and manages to impress then he will in the frame of schemes of the selectors as a second medium-pacer all-rounder alongside Pandya for the South Africa tour next month. In one of my previous pieces for Sportswallah, I have already mentioned about the possibilities of India boarding the South Africa bound flight with an 18-member Test squad.
If we compare between Pandya and Shankar, then the Chennai boy seems to me as a more compacted batsman overall. He bats in the middle-order for his domestic team and regarded as a good player of short balls. After bailing out Tamil Nadu with the bat on numerous occasions at the domestic level, he has made a reputation for himself for being a man for the crisis situation.
But here the question is, are India looking for a batting all-rounder during overseas assignments or someone like Pandya who is a better bowler than Shankar is more suitable for the job?
I asked this question to Laxmipathy Balaji, the current bowling coach of Tamil Nadu, who has been a mentor for Shankar. Under Balaji, he has drastically improved his bowling skills.
However, the former India pacer doesn’t want any “unnecessary hype” regarding Shankar, especially when he is likely to make his Test debut.
Well, my view is, at this point in time, it will be unfair to compare Shankar with Pandya, who has already proved himself at the highest level. However, from the point of view of Indian cricket, it is exciting to see these medium-pacer all-rounders are coming up the ranks.
And one thing looks certain, Shankar is one for the future.