It was his spot that Hardik Pandya took in 2016 for a tour of Australia with India A. Vijay Shankar was ruled out with a knee injury for which he needed surgery and he watched Hardik take his place and make the most of the opportunity and eventually establish himself as a premier all-rounder. But Shankar did not give up. He kept fighting hard and eventually made his India debut in 2018.
It was not a smooth ride for Vijay Shankar at the highest level. After the lows of the Nidahas Trophy final, the Tamil Nadu all-rounder worked his way up once again and made his ODI debut in January 2019. In 5 months’ time, Shankar was on the flight to the UK with the World Cup team after a series of good performances with the ball and the bat against New Zealand and Australia.
However, Shankar played only 3 World Cup matches before picking up another injury. The 30-year-old has not played for India again. Ever since Shankar has had to deal with multiple injury setbacks. His Indian Premier League (IPL) 2020 was cut short by a hamstring injury. In 2021, he picked up another injury at the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy as early as Tamil Nadu’s first match in Kolkata.
Shankar completed his rehab and played for Sunrisers Hyderabad in IPL 2021 only to see the tournament getting suspended midway due to Covid-19 cases in bio-bubbles of multiple franchises.
Vijay Shankar in action of Sunrisers Hyderabad in IPL. (Courtesy by BCCI/PTI Photo)
Speaking to indiatoday.in, Vijay Shankar concedes that recurring injury concerns aren’t easy to deal with, especially at a time when there are limited opportunities at the highest level to stage a comeback. However, the former Tamil Nadu captain says he is not going to crib about his setbacks or use them to justify his absence from the senior national team.
“It was very difficult, definitely. But if you ask me, from the time I got dropped from the Indian team, it was very difficult. I had another injury and then I was not even closer to getting into the Indian side after that. But if you see the time I was with the Indian team, I had a decent run. I was contributing in whatever batting order, whatever situation it was,” Shankar said.
“But on the other side, if you see, definitely injuries have played a big part in my career. I don’t see that as something which I can justify, saying I could have done better if I had been fit. I don’t think that is fair to say. Injuries are bound to happen for sportsmen.
“It’s about pushing myself harder every day. These things are part of my journey. A lot of negativity creeps in when you’re injured. ‘Whether I will be able to come back? When will I play next?’. Every time, when I have a hamstring injury, there will be a small doubt in whatever you do – ‘What if I get that back again?’.
“But I have always pushed myself harder for the best I can give. The rehab, whatever the small things I do, I will give my best because that’s the only thing I have in my control,” he added.
‘India recall not in my control’
As Shankar concedes, the Tamil Nadu all-rounder isn’t at the top of the pecking order for an India comeback but the hunger to keep working hard and wear that India jersey again is burning bright.
“I can’t think of getting into the Indian side, those things are not in my hand. All I can do is prepare hard and try and do well in the matches that I play. I will try to push for that place again.
“Definitely, whoever has played for that country would love to wear that jersey again. There is no doubt about that. I just felt that when I had a decent run and I was not even considered after that, it was a little disappointing,” he added.
Vijay Shankar represented India in 3 World Cup 2019 matches before being ruled out due to injury. (Reuters Photo)
Shankar did not have the best of IPL seasons for Sunrisers Hyderabad earlier this year but the all-rounder points out that it was not easy going into bat when the asking rate was over 10 consistently at a venue like Chennai where most batsmen struggled.
However, the India all-rounder might be considered for selection for the limited-overs series against Sri Lanka in July. India’s first-choice stars will be in England for the Test series in August-September and the selectors have to pick limited-overs specialists for the series in the island nation.
Does Hardik Pandya’s bowling woes open up an opportunity for him?
When asked if Hardik Pandya’s inability to contribute with the ball opens up an opportunity for him, Shankar insisted that he wants to be recognised for his abilities and doesn’t want to be in the team just because he is another fast-bowling all-rounder.
Hardik has had his fair share of injury concerns and the all-rounder has not been blowing regularly. He was not picked for the England tour as India went ahead with Shardul Thakur as their bowling all-rounder option. The Mumbai Indians star did not bowl a single over in IPL 2021 as well.
“I don’t want to be in the team just because I am an all-rounder, someone who can bat and bowl. It should be more genuine, I should be in the team when people trust me for my abilities,” Shankar said.
“I have said in the past about not liking comparisons. But if you really compare, I think I definitely have done better than most.
“But if you ask me personally, because of all the disappointments, you can’t give up. You need to keep fighting, you need to keep pushing yourself. Being at my best is always important wherever I play, it doesn’t matter if I get picked or don’t get picked, I will still try my best, keep working hard. Whatever training I can do in the lockdown, I will keep doing that.
“I am pretty fortunate to have a good family which keeps backing me. I have good friends around. I have my personal coach, S Balaji who keeps pushing me.
“Sometimes, it happens, few players might get things a little late, but I will keep pushing for whatever things I deserve. More than this, there’s nothing much I can say. I will have to keep pushing myself for the best I can give.”