From a batting block in Nidahas Trophy final to bowling the thrilling final over against Australia to lead India to a win, Vijay Shankar has had quite an eventful international career so far.
The all-rounder from Tamil Nadu, who made his debut in the Nidahas Trophy struggled big time with the bat in the final as he managed just 17 off 19 balls in the T20 match against Bangladesh and got out on the penultimate ball with India needing five more to win, only for Dinesh Karthik to smash a last-ball six to clinch the trophy.
But his cricketing fortunes have witnessed a sharp turn since then. Recalled into the side as a replacement for Hardik Pandya for the limited-overs leg of Australia and New Zealand tour, Shankar impressed with his matured batting and big-hitting skills.
The rising cricketing graph reached a crescendo when he bowled the final over in Nagpur ODI against the Aussies. With the opposition needing 11 to win in final over, the medium pacer resulted for two wickets in first three balls as India won the match by eight runs.
Impressed with his batting and growing temperament for high-stake matches, Shankar has also become the popular choice for India's No 4 batting slot for upcoming 2019 World Cup.
The team selection for the showpiece event is due on 15 April and his election might be a certainty but Shankar is not thinking about it. He says he is completely focused on playing for Sunrisers Hyderabad in the ongoing Indian Premier League (IPL)
"I am completely blank about the World Cup selections," Shankar told Firstpost. "The focus is just on my game because I feel if I do any such things, I will end up hampering my game."
On asked, what the World Cup selection would mean to the 28-year-old, Shankar said: "It would mean a lot to me to play for the national team at the World Cup. First of all, it’s very important for me to play for the country and World Cup comes every four years, so if I get selected it would be special."
If picked in the World Cup squad, Shankar would need to play the role of a batting mainstay in the Indian side in the mega event. And the Tamil Nadu player feels that his ability to rotate strike apart from the capability to up the ante at will makes him an ideal choice.
"When I was home between Indian tours I worked a lot with my coach on all aspects of my game. It’s very important to be ready for all match situations, to be ready to adapt to different conditions. I need to be ready to take up any challenge offered to me and actually I am someone who can rotate the strike as well so I don’t mind batting in middle-order."
He also feels that the experience of playing matches in New Zealand and then facing Australia on home turf will hold him in good stead.
"The best thing that has happened to me is that I faced different conditions and match situations in the first few weeks of myself playing for the nation. I feel I did reasonably well but could have maximised the opportunities."
Shankar might be the most discussed name before the selections but just about a year ago he was going through one of the most difficult phases of his life after the failure in Nidahas Trophy. His return to the Indian fold has certainly helped him recover from the setback and boosting his morale but Shankar feels the biggest change is that he's enjoying playing cricket more than before.
"Everyone knows how much I went through after the Nidahas Trophy. The first few weeks were very difficult. It was tough to get the confidence back. But last year’s IPL, then India A tour and then the time with Indian team helped me regain confidence. It is a lot high but I have started enjoying things a lot more and that's more important."
Talking about his franchise, the all-rounder said SRH is his priority right now.
"They (SRH) got me back because they had trust in me. This thing happened to me before I made a name in the Indian team. So, it’s a great thing that they are showing confidence in me. For me, the most important thing is to do well for SRH. If I play well and win matches for them then eventually, I will end up achieving my larger goals."
Playing for SRH also brings the opportunity to work with batting legend VVS Laxman. So, what has been his advice for Shankar?
"He (Laxman) told me that I am batting very well and don’t need to think about other things and just need to focus on enjoying cricket. It sounds like a very simple thing but at the end of the day I can only give my best when I enjoy my game, so it may be a very a subtle thing but it means a lot."
Considered one of the strongest and most consistent sides in IPL, SRH are going through a mixed patch at the moment. While they started the season on a positive note, the last two consecutive defeats have pushed them down to the fifth position in the table.
Shankar feels the franchise has been playing good cricket so far and the turn around is just around the corner.
"We have played some really good cricket. Our losses have been down to us losing some of the key moments in the game. If we can get ourselves together in those key moments, we can turn around the results. I am personally enjoying a lot."
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