@reverse_sweeper 15 minute read
The Adrian Shankar Files, part four, by Scott Oliver. Part three is available to read here.
In The Adrian Shankar Files, a seven-part series, Scott Oliver delves deep into new material about a player who, in May 2011, was fired just 16 days after signing for Worcestershire when it was discovered that his age and the tournaments he claimed to have played in had been fabricated. We will see in detail how Shankar attempted to land an IPL contract with the help of radical bat brand Mongoose, who saw him as the perfect marketing vehicle in their attempts to crack the Indian market, as well as the methods used to secure his Worcestershire deal.
Part four covers Shankar ramping up his efforts to crack into the IPL, including him securing a place in the 2011 auction, and a trial at Rajasthan Royals, which the future Worcestershire batsman, for some reason, chose not to attend.
By December 2010, after Botswana, ‘Banger’ and the flirtation-by-proxy in the direction of Somerset, Shankar had focussed his attention on the IPL. As an out of contract player, he first registered with the ECB and obtained a No Objection Certificate, imperative if he were to be included on the initial auction longlist. Precisely how he made it from this longlist (417 players in 2011, considerably larger today) to the final shortlist (350 in 2011) is unclear, although we know that franchises simply have to put a mark against a player – a sort of provisional declaration of interest – in the secret shortlists they submit to the BCCI, who then draw up and rubber-stamp the official auction list according to this nomination process, with no secondary vetting. All Shankar needed, in effect, was an ally of his to lean on an IPL contact and request that this be done, without it betokening any concrete commitment from the franchise. And this could be done right up to a few days before auction.
With all that in place, and a portfolio of bogus match reports already up his sleeve, Shankar next needed to make himself seem desirable, to build the buzz, to prick the curiosity of those who put the squads together, those who held the purse strings. Thus, the one-man PR campaign – comprising those Unverified Third-Party Endorsements (UTPEs) sent through to Marcus Codrington Fernandez at Mongoose, directly or via assorted sockpuppets – pivoted from match reports to IPL previews. One such was ‘10 Auction Picks with the X-Factor for IPL4’ by ‘Morne Erasmus’.
The ten players Erasmus picked out were ‘Gooser Andrew Symonds (“always a risky signing given that he is prone to rogue behaviour, added to the fact that he is no longer playing regularly at a high level”), Eoin Morgan, Tamim Iqbal, Dale Steyn, Andy Milne [sic], Nuwan Pradeep, Faf du Plessis, Kirk Edwards, Jos Buttler and Adrian Shankar. Each of these cricketers – some of whose careers have gone on to justify Erasmus’ foresight – was given a brief profile, a précis of what they brought to the T20 table. Shankar’s read:
It was true that there had been personal tragedy – Shankar’s father, a former A&E consultant, had passed away earlier in the year – but it didn’t seem right, in at least two senses, for this to have been grafted into the Shankar mythos as a transformational event in his development, an explainer of the cricketing chronology as his ‘glandular fever’ had been before. Dr Shankar died on July 13, whereas the Friends Provident T20 began on June 1 (its group games finishing on July 18), so you would assume that any warm-up match in which, say, a player fresh off his personal road to Damascus had thrashed a 50-ball 104 for Lancashire against Notts, hooking Dirk Nannes off his top lip, would have taken place before the start of the competition, as implied by ‘warm-up’. (Incidentally, Shankar was certainly betting big on the fact that Codrington Fernandez would never meet and “just ask Dirk Nannes” about this game. Such was the tightrope he walked.)
Anyway, the message from Erasmus was simple: with a little faith, a little risk, doubters in the “baying crowd” would all become frenzied fans.
Meanwhile, a few weeks after dusting off his creative director’s hat for the relatively lavish (and, for a small cricket bat firm on tight margins, arguably unnecessary and indulgent) ‘Mind the Windows, Banger’ shoot, in the midst of Mongoose’s third (and unsuccessful) finance raise and trying to figure out another way to acquire a foothold in the promised land of the Indian market, Codrington Fernandez was sent the previously touched on Manoj Ramachandran article: ‘Retention deals spark the IPL brand wars’. This was the piece he attached to his pitch to Dermot Reeve (“we at Mongoose get sent a lot of articles about him”). It had arrived from ‘the Cricket 24/7 team,’ who framed it thus: “We are getting peppered with articles about the IPL at the moment. This is our current favourite, most interesting.” Serendipitously, it seemed to point the way forward for the team at Utopia Village…
It is difficult to know (without the co-operation of the protagonists) whether Codrington Fernandez had already discussed with Shankar the general themes set out by ‘Ramachandran’ and the latter was simply reinforcing things, or whether, on the contrary, Mongoose hadn’t yet properly considered these ideas. Whatever the sequencing, it was highly manipulative, in both the content and the framing, with the good people at Cricket 24/7 – and who couldn’t have their fingers on the cricketing pulse with a name like that? – kindly sending on this piece, their “current favourite,” which was ostensibly about the IPL, but which looked at things from the branding angle, and within that devoted several paragraphs to Mongoose, and within that zeroed in on Shankar. Perfect timing, thanks guys!
After the costly £170k experiment earlier in the year, when an ageing Matthew Hayden – who had withdrawn himself from the upcoming auction – failed to perform (and, in any case, Mongoose only had 100 special edition signed bats in India, and no supply chain), Codrington Fernandez needed a new angle. Ramachandran not only seemed to vindicate the previous strategy with Hayden (even as he marked it as passé), as well as the general goal of cracking India, but also flagged up the new approach. The question was: would this “other brand” be “shrewd” enough to follow Nike’s example and “lobby heavily” for its players? Would they be “proactive movers” or “left behind” like “the traditional brands”?
A couple of days later, Codrington Fernandez finalised a plan for Mongoose’s 2011 IPL incursion – more cost-effective, more in tune with the zeitgeist set out by Ramachandran, more aligned on dynamic young Twenty20 batters like the 28-year-old Jimmy Anderson and Adrian Shankar – which he sent with the Ramachandran piece to Zubin Bharucha, Director of Cricket at Rajasthan Royals. The project, or campaign, was dubbed ‘Five Stars of India’ and required Bharucha to find him “five young emerging batters who are local Indian players,” stipulating that he “[wanted] Adrian Shankar to be one of them” – apparently on account of him holding an Indian passport – along with the rider that there was “a bounty” payable for each. (Codrington Fernandez might be correct to claim he wasn’t reliant on Shankar “for the execution of any key business strategies,” but that is not to say he didn’t try and use him as a central figure in them. In any event, the plans would be swamped by the company’s solvency issues.)
A well-known figure in IPL circles – particularly after Rajasthan’s Moneyball-style tactics took them to a shock victory in the inaugural IPL – and a coach who had been commissioned to write technical papers for the ECB, Bharucha describes his broader role at the franchise as “a filter between the front [players and coaching staff] and the back [data and video analysts] of the organisation.”
Specifically, explains Sean Morris, the former Hampshire player and Rajasthan Royals’ CEO between 2009 and 2011, Bharucha’s role was to advise the Player Management Group what available local talent there was, in which player categories, so that this would inform auction strategy. After the auction was complete, he would then help fill the gaps in playing resources from the local player pool (at the time, only international players and those capped by India at senior or junior level entered the auction). “Zubin’s input would have been: ‘I’ve got these local players. These guys would be starters and these guys would be back-up.’ And from that you then decide, ‘Okay, so what we need is, say, a left-arm seamer and a wicket-keeper/batsman’ and you buy one in the auction.”
Recalling these events in 2017, over six years later, Bharucha said that he gave the approach from Codrington Fernandez his attention because it had come through Manoj Badale, the Royals’ owner. Badale says he met Codrington Fernandez “twice as a favour to a mutual contact,” one of them being when Codrington Fernandez and Armine Khan first pitched for investment in the ‘Albert Trott’ bat, and that, as always, he would have passed any cricket approach straight over to Bharucha.
“Instead of fobbing off Codrington Fernandez and Mongoose,” Bharucha said, “as I do with most agents, I would have kept the conversation and relationship alive only because it came through Manoj, and he was asking me to look into it. We have agents constantly sending player names over to us, but also know they are sending the same names to every other franchise. Hence, as a franchise, we are very clear: we give absolutely nobody any indication of what we are thinking or who we are interested in.”
In December 2010, Bharucha replied to Codrington Fernandez by saying that “it’s all on at the moment” (the ‘Five Stars’ plan) and that he had informed Shankar about the need for ECB registration: “I presume you could speak to him directly on the Mongoose side of things! I know him well, but I guess you know him as well,” he writes (which suggests Bharucha’s relationship with Shankar preceded that with Codrington Fernandez). Bharucha adds that he was “pushing Kochi heavily to bid for Adrian”. He appends a list of candidates for ‘Five Stars’, including Suryakumar Yadav (aged 20), Mayank Agarwal (19), Ambati Rayudu (24) and Shikhar Dhawan (25), as well as several other relative unknowns. Bharucha recalls that he was “between contracts” at the Royals, and so at liberty to suggest names to Kochi Tuskers Kerala, where he was an informal consultant helping the new franchise set up.
“It’s a big surprise for me to hear that Zubin, as such a significant part of the Player Management Group, was pushing players to other franchises,” says Sean Morris. “If I’d known he was doing that, then that would be a pretty significant problem. He’s basically head of Rajasthan’s domestic cricket, with a long-term association with the franchise. He was paid a lot. So that would have been something I’d had to take to someone like Manoj and the board. You can’t be part of the Rajasthan family and furniture and say, ‘Well, I’m between contracts’ – whether he was or wasn’t, and there were staff that were still working for Royals at the time – and then just shove players to other teams. If that was the case, that would be recommending talent to our competitors.”
“My role was to prepare [Kochi] for how an auction would run and then guys like [coach, Geoff] Lawson would decide on who to pick,” explains Bharucha. “I was asked to send a list of youngsters along as well, which I did, and yes, Shankar’s name was on the list along with a number of other youngsters. I may have used some words to the Mongoose guy to keep him happy given the relationship came through Manoj, but I had absolutely no control over anything Kochi were doing.” Furthermore, Bharucha insists that he was not interested in any bounty, because “100% of what I earned between 2007 and 2015 went to charity and the cause of building a school for under-privileged children in rural India. Not a penny hit my bank account.”
(“It is an issue that I had completely disassociated with,” he added in recent correspondence. “I had clearly requested him to refrain from all such practices, especially if he wants to continue dealing with me. Apart from being something against professional conduct and ethics, it was also made clear by me that the extant rules and regulations clearly disallow any association with such transactions or with persons involved in such transactions.” Codrington Fernandez did not respond to a request for comment over the ethics of offering a bounty in such situations.)
Bharucha also confirms he was sent a variety of press reports about Shankar and that he “vaguely [recalls] there was more than one person pushing his name at the time”. Presumably, these were UK-based Royals fans who had seen Shankar charge-hook Nannes or South Africa-based Royals fans who had been in Rustenburg in late October and felt they should give Bharucha the inside track on this unknown starlet (UTPE/Fs to bolster the UTPE/Js).
“Given our Moneyball tactics, we get inundated with people or agents pushing players at us,” says Bharucha, underlining that his involvement with Codrington Fernandez was purely that of a talent scout trying to help someone who had expressed an interest in backing young Indian players and, by extension, helping the latter gain sponsorship. “There was nothing more than the vision to keep looking out for young talent, but certainly without any ulterior motive. This Mongoose guy might have been promoting [Shankar’s] name around at the time, and I exchanged emails with him, given he was recommending youngsters. But trust me, I can’t even remember what the guy [Codrington Fernandez] looks like.”
Let us pause and recap. Perhaps influenced by what he had heard from Shankar at the Gilgamesh meeting or elsewhere regarding the nature of his contact with the Royals – Shankar either falsely claiming there was an offer of a January trial (which would either be cutting it fine or too late for the auction) or over-stating what such a routine offer really meant (effectively, a first-stage training camp) – Codrington Fernandez reaches out to Badale, who he has met, advocating for Shankar. Badale passes the approach to Bharucha, as he would normally do. This polite non-refusal may have been transfigured into genuine interest by Codrington Fernandez (and Shankar). Bharucha, influenced by the provenance of the referral and his (mis)understanding of Codrington Fernandez’s relationship with Badale (and perhaps also by the Mongoose CEO’s relative prestige compared to other agents, given that his bat was briefly the talk of the IPL the previous year), engages with what appears to be enthusiasm, although this is borne, he says, by his vocation as a talent scout and broad interest in helping young Indian cricketers. Likewise, Bharucha’s contact with Kochi might have been overstated out of simple politeness, with a hefty pinch of salt required. There is no apparent commitment from the Royals ahead of the auction – and in any case, Rajasthan were at the time suspended from IPL by the BCCI, a ruling they were challenging in the High Court in Mumbai (the ban was overturned the day before the auction). However, with apparently reasonable cause, Codrington Fernandez seemingly apprehends all this as the actions of someone equally motivated by all facets of the ‘Five Stars’ plan. Crossed wires, shadows and light, a merry dance.
With the auction approaching and Codrington Fernandez pushing Shankar’s cause hard – as were various ‘third parties’ via the type of unsolicited cold-pitch emails that were commonplace for the Royals’ Director of Cricket to receive – Bharucha contacted his consultant at sports analytics firm Kadamba, asking for footage of and/or data on Jos Buttler, Faf du Plessis and Shankar, three names from the Erasmus preview. “[The analyst] said they couldn’t find any footage of Shankar playing anywhere,” recalls Bharucha. “Then he checked on data and there wasn’t any record of him playing anywhere either. I guess that was the red flag, which must have prompted me to be even more cautious and absolutely insist on a trial.”
These background checks took place on December 29, nine days before the auction. Earlier that same day, Shankar had emailed Codrington Fernandez, saying he had just received “a request from Zubin to forward some articles about me onto him. I think I have a couple somewhere but if you have any that you have read or have been sent to you could you please forward them onto me? I’ll put them together and send them onto him.”
Quite apart from the subtle deception in this – the notion that Shankar would not have access to the texts he was soliciting – and regardless of whether or not Bharucha had actually made such a request, these were clearly analogue methods for a digital age, and, unlike at Worcestershire, they would not succeed in breaching the Royals’ more rigorous filtering processes – albeit his final rejection from the franchise only came in late March. The day after Bharucha had insisted on a trial, Shankar followed up with Codrington Fernandez: “Zubin is uncomfortable with the agreement for some reason. I said I would let you take a look at it and see what you think.”
What did Shankar mean here by “the agreement”? Did this simply refer to the ‘Five Stars of India’ plan laid out 13 days earlier by Codrington Fernandez, or was Shankar himself setting out the terms of his possible engagement with Rajasthan prior to this? The apparent ‘seniority’ and back-channel implied in his line “I said I would let you take a look at it” chimes with the suggestion that Bharucha knew Shankar “well” before he had ascertained how well Codrington Fernandez knew him, which implies a degree of contact from Shankar or sockpuppets with Bharucha before the ‘Five Stars’ plan was put to him. Who was pulling the strings? It is certainly possible that Shankar was telling Codrington Fernandez all along – certainly from around the time of Mongoose’s September ‘Investor Update’ – that something reasonably solid was in place with the Royals, which then prompted Codrington Fernandez to develop the finer points of the ‘Five Stars’ plan. Bharucha is adamant: “It is crystal clear that there has been no arrangement or transaction that has been concluded by me with [Shankar] or [Codrington Fernandez]. There never was any intent to have any arrangement other than following due process and testing any candidate.”
The trial Bharucha insisted upon would consist of putting a player through a demanding set of simulated game scenarios. For instance, he says, “you get one ball to hit a boundary and win the match. That’s it, session over.” They might ask a player to score 12 from one over from a leg-spinner, an “Over 10 scenario” with the field back, or open the batting and achieve a target of 50 in six overs, or take 14 from a death over to win the match. “Basically, we test them against all types of bowling in all situations. That’s how we ascertain where the individual is best suited to deploy their skills.” Are they finishers, middle-overs accumulators or top-order fireworks displays who score lots of big, fast runs?
Bharucha also says Rajasthan “spend a lot of time understanding the background of the individual, where he comes from, where he grew up, what’s the family background, where did he play growing up. If he had said something about South Africa we would have spoken to all the players we know there to find out about the player.” It is unclear whether they ever got this far with Shankar, whether they spoke to colleagues at Lancashire, Bedfordshire, Cambridge University, Spencer CC, Heywood CC or Impalas.
Anyway, despite what the ‘Investor Update’ had said about him having “trials with Rajasthan in January,” Shankar did not take up the offer of a trial, a strange move for someone apparently so keen on playing IPL. Or was it. The most obvious reason for the no-show is that being put through his paces at a trial would drastically decrease his chances of landing a deal. His best chance of being picked up was by not showing them what he could do – which was the probable cause of the ‘knee injury’ at South Northumberland while on trial for Lancashire, the ‘knee injury’ prior to the third day of Worcestershire’s game against Durham (with Harmison rested and raring to go), and the reason why, according to Lancashire colleagues, Shankar regularly missed net sessions due to some unspecified bruising or sprain.
This is the central paradox of the Shankar endeavour: the closer he came to realising the fantasy of Being-a-Star-Cricketer, the more he had to back away from it to keep it intact, to stop the fantasy from melting in the pitiless empirical light of sporting meritocracy. Perpetually drawn to the flame by the inner compulsions, yet perpetually drawing away from the fantasy’s realisation – precisely in order to preserve it. Making the fantasy real made it unsustainable, an existential ‘death’ that his ego simply could not face. That said, there is always the chance that his delusions were such that, ignoring the large body of evidence that he wasn’t up to scratch (not terrible, just plainly not good enough), he truly believed that if only he could get his foot in the door, by hook or crook, then ‘the real cricketer’ – that is, the one of his fantasied self-image – would emerge. Walk would catch up with talk, and no one would concern themselves too much with the deception that had led to the opportunity, precisely because of the inevitable “tsunami of runs” that would follow.
In the end, having made it onto the final auction list of 350, Shankar went unsold (players bought for their $20k base price included Rilee Roussow at RCB, star of that Impalas final, although it was never revealed how many runs he scored). “I’m just glad we didn’t bid for him,” says Bharucha.
But Shankar was far from ready to call it quits. Indeed, in many ways everything was still on track, given that he hadn’t played his way out of contention. Getting on the auction shortlist was a significant step forward, for only those players could be called upon should franchises need injury replacements.
Eight days after Shankar went unsold in Bangalore he forwarded an article he had received to Codrington Fernandez: “Just been sent this, ironically what we were talking about the other day” (what are the chances!). The piece was by ‘Johan Conn,’ a name that could be the off-the-cuff splicing of a generic Afrikaner first name with the surname of a famous cricket writer, Malcolm, or was perhaps a gleeful private joke, a hiding-in-plain-sight: John Con. (Or even, if the product of Shankar’s unconscious, a cry for help.)
The piece was headlined ‘Du Plessis, Pradeep, Shankar – who exactly?’ An equivalence between the three players was being drawn by Conn on the grounds that they each had a base price of $20k, were all uncapped and were all “heavily talked about at auction” (surprisingly so, as auctions are generally places where rival parties keep cards close to chests). With a frisson of conspiratorial delight, Conn’s preamble wonders if all this chatter around the three players was “the work of hyperactive agents or had the players created the storm of PR themselves?” It was certainly possible.
“The assorted hacks,” continues Conn, using somewhat unusually disdainful language to describe his colleagues, “were convinced that these were the guys who should be snapped up by any bargain-hungry franchises, although Shankar’s name did not appear on any of the auction lists. At the last minute he was added, which suggested that some well-informed franchise had been tipped off and requested his entry on the register.” The identity of the party who ensured this inclusion remains a mystery.
Du Plessis was picked up by CSK for $120k – nudgingly ascribed by Conn to “one of the most aggressive agents in the sport” in Stephen Musgrove, who “would have left no franchise owner in any doubt as to how good his client could be” – and the future South Africa skipper is glossed by Conn in 125 words. Nuwan Pradeep, bought at base price by RCB, merits just 90 words. Adrian Shankar, whose “name came out of the hat so late that most of the bidders had just about fallen asleep by then” (so that was the reason), requires the broader canvas of 376 words, paragraphs perhaps best read as if pasted on a mobile billboard parked outside Codrington Fernandez’s home.
Leaving aside the fact that van Niekerk’s original report on the Rustenburg T20 had Theron and Frylinck as Impalas teammates of Shankar, the takeaway message here – above and beyond Shankar being a name on everyone’s lips – is that, when it comes to player recruitment, “rules are shifted and bent at all times”. It is a multi-directional nudge, both to “prudent owners” and to agents – Codrington Fernandez now being his de facto representative, his chief advocate, with Total Sport Promotion seemingly by-passed and/or not pushing his case.
Furthermore, the suggestion that “special permission from the BCCI” might be needed for “an overseas player” seemed to indicate that Shankar did not in fact possess an Indian passport, and presumably was unable to rustle up a forgery – considerably more challenging than merely doctoring an existing passport, such as the photocopied document he presented at Lancashire and, later, Worcestershire. Indeed, had he held an Indian passport – and Codrington Fernandez had earmarked him as a local player in the ‘Five Stars’ plan and explicitly said this in his email to Reeve (“an elegant wristy hitter of Indian descent. With an indian passport, he can play as a local. He … is totally destructive at the crease, looks like a film star, has the brains of a prof … and is thoroughly charming”), all of which may have derived from a Shankar fib – he could have taken the non-auction route, although this may have compromised him getting a NOC from the ECB, as it would have meant he couldn’t then play county cricket as a local. Entering the auction therefore signals either that he wanted to remain a British local player for county cricket purposes, or that he saw that his best way into the IPL was to avoid the trial process and be picked up later, perhaps as a Bharucha-backed spur-of-the-moment replacement.
Nevertheless, and these bureaucratic obstacles notwithstanding, we should remember, says Conn, that everyone was simultaneously talking about Faf du Plessis before the auction and responding to mention of his name with “raised eyebrows” and “quizzical looks” (indeed, Faf was so off-radar that Shankar had recently believed he was bowling medium-pacers at Lancashire). Might not the same be true, wonders Conn, of Adrian Shankar, a man who bats like Virat Kohli. And of course, as the kicker, Conn heavily underlines Shankar’s marketing potential, which no doubt piqued the interest of the former Ogilvy man in his corner.
The 2011 ICC World Cup – co-hosted by India and Sri Lanka, the eventual finalists – was due to start on February 19, running through to April 2, six days before IPL4 got underway. Injuries were likely and Shankar, the name on everyone’s lips at auction, would be waiting in the wings, ready to pick up where he left off in Rustenburg.
A week after the Conn article, another auction reaction piece arrived at Mongoose, this time sent in by the team at ‘Cricket 20’ [firstname.lastname@example.org] – again pasted into the body of an email, again without links – and forwarded on to Manoj Badale and the agent Eddie Tolchard. Penned by one ‘Vikram Singh’, it bore the headline: ‘Latest IPL News – Srinivasan Pulls the Strings Behind the Super Kings’.
Singh’s piece, filed from Dubai according to the byline, was ostensibly about Srinivasan, “he of many hats and fingers in pies” and the person widely considered responsible for Rajasthan’s (overturned) suspension. It was also, therefore, inevitably about the franchise he owned, the franchise with which Codrington Fernandez had the strongest links having shadowed Hayden at IPL3. However, it also contained further clues as to how Shankar’s name had appeared on the final auction list when it was absent from the initial version circulated by the BCCI. Indeed, this precise mechanism was perhaps not intended for public consumption, yet the sterling reporterly legwork of Singh had seemingly got to the bottom of things, all hinted at while finessing the narrative around the hot-ticket yet curiously overlooked Shankar.
This beseeching final paragraph is evidently addressing Codrington Fernandez directly (well, in a manner of speaking): don’t worry about the wages, just let me/him live the dream!
It is highly questionable whether Shankar was genuinely interested in getting “valuable game time” for one of the smaller franchises, as opposed to sitting on the CSK bench, given that it would almost certainly result in him being exposed as hopelessly out of his depth. The most important aspect seemed to be the prolongation of the fantasied self-image (being a pro with “pulsing raw talent in his grasp” in the words of Morne Erasmus) and if actually playing the game or even taking up offers of trials became a threat to that then they were to be avoided. He wanted to wear the tracksuit, banter with the lads, be looked at admiringly as he stepped off the coach – the pseudo-realisation of the fantasy, in other words – and facing high-quality bowling was, potentially, a major inconvenience (not least if he was thrown in against RCB, with Nannes out for revenge!). In the squad, out of the team – this was the optimal arrangement, something very well understood by sport’s greatest interloper, Carlos Kaiser, who spun out a 20-year football career without making a single appearance.
Had Shankar and Codrington Fernandez somehow managed to persuade Rajasthan Royals to bid for him – and it would probably have been successful, given the unlikelihood of any bidding war – we can only imagine the efforts Shankar would have made to ensure his new teammates were up to speed with his credentials. Gareth Andrew recalls his first encounter with Shankar after he had arrived at Worcester: “I went for a coffee with him, after he’d turned up for a training session. I’m not a cricket fan, really. I don’t really follow cricket outside of playing and being around it, so for him to then reel off a number of names he’d played against, saying he’d hit millions of sixes off all these spinners in Sri Lanka, I completely switched off.”
When Shankar pitched up for trials at Lancashire in August 2008, he told one teammate he had made seven consecutive hundreds for Kent Second XI (you will recall that, when announcing his signing, Lancashire erroneously claimed he had been playing for Kent that summer). Rather than impressing his colleagues, however – and again, the gambit here appeared to be that none of the Lancashire players had friends at Kent who they might contact for corroboration – it raised two obvious questions: why these runs hadn’t earned him a place in the Kent first team and why Kent hadn’t offered him a contract.
Perhaps a clue can be found in Shankar’s interview with Manchester Evening News. “When I spoke to Mike [Watkinson, Lancashire Director of Cricket] I said that I am not going to be the type to be knocking on your door saying ‘Why am I not in the team?’ If you score three or four hundreds in the second eleven, but are not selected, then you might have a word. Ultimately Lancashire want to win games, they want to win trophies. To do that you have got to pick the best eleven players at the time. If you have got four hundreds in your bag from the seconds, there will be an opportunity.” Or not.
By the time January drew to a close, the IPL auction had been and gone and yet Rajasthan had only signed five overseas players, with scope, therefore, for new additions. The dream was still alive (recall Conn’s line: “no one knew about Aaron Finch before Rajasthan plucked him from obscurity, and look at him now”). If Shankar did make it in through the IPL back door, his new teammates would have included player/coach Shane Warne (with whom Shankar may have been tempted to discuss his familiarity with the guests in Warne’s ‘Ultimate Party’ mural). There was also Rahul Dravid, Ajinkya Rahane, Shane Watson, Ross Taylor (he of the “blurring hand speed”), Johan Botha and Aakash Chopra. Oh, and Shaun Tait, who might have been interesting to face at nets – particularly for a lad averaging 20.05 over the previous five years of (non-fictitious) club cricket.
It was certainly a long way from Lancashire Cup quarter-finals at Heywood, although doubtless Shankar would soon have felt at home, and certainly possessed the rhetorical skills to ensure there was a good chance his colleagues would help him feel he belonged there. After all, by this stage, he had already savaged several illustrious bowlers and had, or would have, such luminaries as Ashwell Prince, VVS Laxman and Shiv Chanderpaul singing his praises. After all, by this stage, Shankar (or his aliases) had already compared himself – either through explicit reference or implicitly, by virtue of being grouped with those players in preview pieces and suchlike – with James Anderson, Virat Kohli (both Conn and Ramachandran), Murali Vijay, Mike Hussey, Aaron Finch, Faf du Plessis, Nuwan Pradeep, Adam Milne, Dale Steyn, Andrew Symonds, Eoin Morgan, Tamim Iqbal, Kirk Edwards and Jos Buttler. And he was far from done on this score.
This is the fourth in a seven-part series. Part three is available to read here.