World Cup 2019: Vijay Shankar Has Good Reason To Be Confused

India's Vijay Shankar reacts as he walks back to the pavilion after his dismissal during the 2019 Cricket World Cup group stage match between India and Afghanistan at the Rose Bowl in Southampton, southern England, on June 22, 2019. (Photo by SAEED KHAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Ever since Vijay Shankar broke into the national side, the Chennai all-rounder has been so busy proving his credentials as a cricketer for the big stage that he appears to have lost focus of his abilities, both as a batsman and a change bowler who can keep things tight and eke out a wicket or two.

His entry into the team was anything but memorable. Handed a spot in the T20 side, Vijay Shankar was part of the Rohit Sharma-led team that participated in the tournament for the Nidhahas Trophy in Sri Lanka in the spring of 2018. The team had several youngsters and was meant to assess their prowess as India prepared for the World Cup in over a year’s time.

The tournament was hardly memorable for Vijay Shankar. In five matches, he scored 17 runs, bowled 17 overs and conceded 153 runs in the process, going at nine an over. The nightmarish 19 deliveries he faced in the finals against Bangladesh as India struggled to score 50 runs off 30 deliveries was his first test on the world stage.

Vijay Shankar failed that test in spite of the fact that he hit his first international boundary off the second ball he faced from Nazmul Islam. It was left to his fellow Chennai-ite Dinesh Karthik to save the team further blushes as India got their hands on the silverware, thus forgetting the all-rounder’s first tryst with possible glory.

He had to wait for nearly a year before he found himself back in favour, thanks to Hardik Pandya and KL Rahul’s ill-timed decision to join Karan Johar for coffee. Vijay Shankar got the nod as an all-rounder in Team India’s white ball cricket scene. A batting average of 47.3 and a bowling economy of 3.19 in List-A matches possibly tilted the scales.

That he played no role with the bat in his first three ODIs was hardly his fault, given that the team’s top order was firing on all cylinders with turbo mode also open thanks to MS Dhoni and Kedar Jadhav in the middle order. On his debut against Australia at Melbourne, Vijay Shankar didn’t bat, but bowled a tidy 0-23 off six overs.

The same story repeated in the first two engagements against New Zealand. With the ball, Vijay Shankar delivered a safe spell of 0-19 in four overs in the first one. In the second, he went for 17 runs in two overs and skipper Virat Kohli preferred bowling part-timer Jadhav for six overs over the medium pacer for inexplicable reasons. The Kiwis were already out of the match by this time.

This was possibly the first time the youngster felt confused. If he was chosen as a fifth bowler, why wasn’t he bowling the full quota? These thoughts may have vanished in the next match at Wellington when Vijay Shankar scored a workmanlike 45 off 64 balls in the company of Ambati Rayadu, the original No.4 in the Indian ODI line-up. Unfortunately, he got run-out at an inopportune time, leaving Rayadu to get a 90.

His next test came in the series against the Australians in the five-match ODI series played in India. Scores of 46, 32, 26 and 16 weren’t enough to excite the rabble-rousers. It was his death bowling that caught the collective fancy. Handed the ball with Australia needing nine off the last over at the Nagpur ODI, Vijay Shankar got Marcus Stoinis out first ball and followed it up with the wicket of Adam Zampa to help India cross the line by eight runs.

He was succinct about it: “I was ready to bowl that over, only if I do it will people know I can.”

And yet, this is precisely where skipper Virat Kohli appears to be adding to the confusion. Vijay Shankar, who played his first match of the 2019 World Cup against Pakistan, was forced into the attack due to an injury to Bhuvaneshwar Kumar. Off his first delivery, he trapped Imam ul Haq leg before and came back to remove their skipper Sarfaraz Ahmed. Returns of 2-22 across five overs against India’s arch-rivals should have been a huge high for him.

But come the next encounter against Afghanistan, Kohli didn’t deem it fit to bowl Vijay Shankar again even though the pitch was on the slower side and would have possibly aided his bowling. Does this suggest that the thinktank doesn’t care to invest in this all-rounder, given that they already have a rejuvenated Hardik Pandya?

By the looks of it, Vijay Shankar seems to be sacrificial lamb of the team. Because if they want to bring in Rishabh Pant next game, who do you think will be the fall guy?

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