Vijay Shankar’s dream

Vijay Shankar’s two-storey house in Madipakkam, a Chennai suburb, has nothing to distinguish it from its neighbours. That is, till you get to the terrace. Here, a high cricket net stands, 86 feet in length and 20 feet wide, lit by mast lights, with an astro turf pitch and a bowling machine. This is where Vijay was forged.

His father, H Shankar, a former Chennai club cricketer, built this facility eight-years-ago, when Vijay took the decision to turn professional.

“Normally if you see any coaching centre, nets would not be more than 13 feet,” Shankar says. “This one allowed him to play his shots and also know exactly where they were landing.”

Vijay, 28, was introduced to cricket by his father when he was 10, in the parking lot of the same house. It has been a steady, patiently crafted rise to the Indian team headed for the World Cup for the Tamil Nadu all-rounder.

As a club-level cricketer, he built a reputation as a solid batsman who could bowl off-spin, but could not find a way in to the Tamil Nadu squad, which was packed with quality spinners.

“But they were looking for an all-rounder,” says S Balaji, who has been coaching Vijay since he was 15. “So we switched him to bowling medium-pace, initially starting with just 4-5 overs in local matches.”

His breakthrough came in the 2014-15 Ranji season where he scored 577 runs in seven matches, contributing majorly in Tamil Nadu’s push to the final. That led to a call-up to the India A team, and then on to the India T20 team in 2018, where he immediately got a taste of the pressure of playing at that level, after his 19-ball 17 almost cost India the Nidahas Trophy against Bangladesh. Social media trolling followed.

“It was very difficult to sleep for next three-four days,” Vijay said about that match. “Whenever I switched off the lights, my mind went back to that innings.”

He got a second chance on India’s tour of New Zealand after Hardik Pandya and KL Rahul were kept out of the squad for their controversial comments on Koffee With Karan.

Vijay came back stronger, playing important cameos in New Zealand and the home tour of Australia, batting with both urgency and poise, and fielding with purpose.

One of those innings came in the company of skipper Kohli at Nagpur in the second ODI against Australia. Shankar shared a 71-ball 81-run stand to steady the Indian innings and push the scoring rate. He himself scored a brisk 41-ball 46 and then took two wickets in the final over of the match to seal the victory.

“This is like a dream come true,” Vijay said after his selection. “We have a few World Cup-winning team members here at SRH (IPL team Sunrisers Hyderabad) and I have spoken to them to understand what it feels like to play in a World Cup and then go on to win it.”

Shankar still practises at his terrace net whenever he is home, honing different aspects of his game with coach Balaji.

“We practise according to the conditions and simulate the situations he will face next week, next month or next year,” Balaji says. “For IPL he was practising for 15 days. The focus was micro and what will be his target areas, which bowlers to target et al. He gives attention to details.”

A typical practice session includes hitting up to 500 balls within a tightly scheduled time.

“We have been following this routine for a long time now and we still do,” Balaji says. “It’s a process to build muscle memory, so that he doesn’t have to depend on watching the ball closely. His instincts are very good because of that.”

In England, Shankar may make time to visit Old Trafford when he is in Manchester—the Chennai man is a keen Manchester United fan. He loves the team as much as he loves his coffee.

“He can drink it all day long,” Shankar says.

(HT Media)