Vijay Shankar, India’s “3D” player for the 2019 World Cup, has not played a game for the international team since the event three years ago. Sarah Waris traces his journey back to the wilderness.
Vijay Shankar being picked in India’s 2019 Cricket World Cup squad still stands as one of the most controversial selection decisions in Indian cricketing history. The all-rounder had batted only five times ODIs before the tournament, with an average of 33 and a high score of 46, whilst picking up two wickets with his medium pace. Shankar had never batted above No.5 in the format going into the World Cup, but was backed to be the answer to India’s all-consuming No.4 dilemma for the World Cup.
He pushed aside Ambati Rayudu, a relative veteran of 55 ODIs, with three hundreds and an average of 47.05. “What Vijay Shankar brings is three dimensional,” said India selector MSK Prasad, upon announcing the selection. “We are looking at him at no. 4 to begin with.”
This led to a memorable reply from Rayudu, who tweeted that he had “just ordered a new set of 3d glasses to watch the World Cup”, with the tag coming back to haunt Shankar as his career progressed.
The hype of his World Cup selection ended with a whimper as Shankar was eventually ruled out of the edition after being hit on his toes by Jasprit Bumrah during a nets session. He played three games in the tournament, scoring 58 runs at an average of 29 and also picking up two wickets against Pakistan. His outing against West Indies in Manchester was the last time he represented India in any format.
The rise of Shankar
The Tamil Nadu player first came to the limelight with two Player of the Match awards in the 2014/15 Ranji Trophy knockouts, impressing with his all-round skills. Deemed an impact player for his ability to strike with both bat and ball, Shankar was soon named the skipper of his state team in the 2016/17 Vijay Hazare Trophy, India’s 50-over competition, which Tamil Nadu went on to win. The right-hander led from the front, scoring 198 runs at an average of 66 with eight wickets to his name. Under him, Tamil Nadu also won the Deodhar Trophy that year, with Shankar contributing his runs at a strike rate of over 90.
He ended as the leading wicket-taker in the 2018/19 Deodhar Trophy, with seven wickets in three matches. Shankar’s returns helped him emerge as a strong candidate for the 2019 World Cup, with his presence in the XI balancing the side as India headed to the World Cup with two seaming all-rounders, the other being Hardik Pandya.
Following his untimely injury in the multi-national event, Shankar’s career has experienced a significant downturn. Though he was able to score two nineties in the 2019/20 Vijay Hazare Trophy after regaining fitness, a hamstring injury midway through the 2020 IPL further added to his woes. He was injured once again after playing one match in the 2020/21 Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy but made a strong comeback last season, with 199 runs at an average of 66.33 in the T20 event. In the 2021/22 Vijay Hazare Trophy, though, Shankar struggled, with 30 runs in four games.
Shankar’s inconsistent returns in the IPL of late have not helped matters. Since 2020, the 31-year-old has played for Sunrisers Hyderabad and Gujarat Titans, scoring only 174 runs in 18 games at an average of 13.38 and a strike rate of 95.08 with one fifty. He has picked up seven wickets across the last three seasons, and his performance this year has pushed him down the pecking order not just for India, but in the IPL itself.
Turning out for the eventual winners Gujarat Titans, Shankar looked out of sorts in the four games he played, making 19 runs at an average of 4.75. He bowled a total of nine balls, in a season that was defined by the return of Hardik, Shankar’s direct competition in the India XI.
When Hardik was recovering from his back surgery in the last few years, Shankar was unable to grab onto his chances in the domestic matches he played, and India turned to the likes of Venkatesh Iyer to fulfil the role of seaming all-rounder and finisher in Hardik’s absence, indicating how far they have moved on from Shankar. When India were looking for someone just like him, he floundered and it makes a return tougher.
Still only 31 years old, a comeback for him cannot be ruled out entirely, for sport is always full of surprises, it will need serious work and dedication from him if he wants to end up as a cricketer who is known for more than his controversial selection in the 2019 World Cup squad.