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A second chance for Vijay Shankar

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Vijay_Shankar_India_ODI_CricketThe field of sports can be as cruel as any other profession, if not more, with limited opportunities because of the stiff competition.

A player is expected to prove his worth the very first chance he gets, as there is no guarantee of a second chance ever coming his way. Lucky are the ones who receive a second chance in their sporting career. Lucky is Tamil Nadu-based cricketer Vijay Shankar.

From a disastrous debut at the Nidahas Trophy in March 2018 to a match-winning contribution in the second ODI between India and Australia in 2019, Shankar has come full circle in his maiden year of international cricket. The word redemption will now be associated with him forever.

It was not the first time Shankar has turned tables in his favour. He has always gone through tough phases before achieving his goals. Making a mark for himself in the Indian team was just another task. Things have never been easy for Shankar ever since he made his professional debut in 2012 for Tamil Nadu. He started off as an off-spinner but struggled to break into a spin-dominated Tamil Nadu side. He was forced to turn into a medium pacer. His perseverance and strength of character showed his love for the game and he made his Ranji Trophy debut during the 2012-13 season.

A series of setbacks

The hard work finally began to pay off when Shankar was included in the India A side for the Australia tour in 2016. However, once again life had something bitter in store for him. He suffered a knee problem that put him into a dilemma: should he go Down Under or should he go under the knife?

Thinking of his long-term prospects, Shankar decided to get his knee operated. He missed the India A tour and spent the next two months recovering at the National Cricket Academy (NCA) in Bangalore. What followed next must have hurt Shankar, as his replacement Hardik Pandya went on to establish himself as the first-choice fast bowling all-rounder in the Indian team.

The knee injury was a major setback for Shankar as he had to once again prove himself in the domestic circuit to attract the selectors' attention.

The very next year, Shankar received a surprise India call-up, his first. It was special because it was for a Test series. Shankar replaced Bhuvneshwar Kumar in the squad for the final two home Tests against Sri Lanka. Unfortunately, he did not get a game.

When he finally made his India debut at the Nidahas Trophy in Sri Lanka, little did he know he would soon be trying to forget his India debut. In the Tri-Series that included hosts Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, he chipped in with a few wickets but got a chance to bat only in the final against the Bangla Tigers.

Considering he was batting for the first time in the blue jersey, nerves got the better of him. He struggled to 17 off 19 and got out on the penultimate ball of the match. That dismissal left his good friend from Tamil Nadu, Dinesh Karthik, with only one option: clearing the ball over the boundaries for a win. Fortunately for Shankar, Karthik smashed that massive six to win India the final.

In the current era of social media, Shankar suffered the brunt of a poor debut with the bat and was massively trolled and criticised on every platform. According to several news reports, the TN all-rounder read every single post, which caused his confidence to dip even more.

Eleven months later, Shankar found himself back in the Indian squad for the ODI and T20I series in New Zealand. After an easy win in the 50-over format, Shankar's most-awaited moment came in the T20Is. Following average performances in the first two T20Is, he had no option but to deliver in the deciding final T20I in Hamilton. It was deja vu for the all-rounder.

But this time, Shankar had grown to deal with such pressure situations better.

Chasing New Zealand's target of 213, Shankar came in to bat at No. 3 after the early dismissal of Shikhar Dhawan. He shared a crucial 75-run stand with Rohit Sharma, putting India in a commanding position. He scored a quick 43 from 28 balls, hammering two sixes and five fours. Although India lost the match Shankar, their top-scorer on the day, had begun his journey on the path of redemption.

The path of redemption

Prior to its commencement, consensus was that the players who would be picked for the home series against Australia were expected to be in Team India's World Cup plan. Getting selected for the series was itself a small victory for Shankar, who had not played international cricket in the subcontinent for close to a year, since his forgettable debut in Sri Lanka.

Out of the two T20I matches, he just played the Bangalore game. He did not bat but picked up two wickets. He made it to the first ODI in Hyderabad but had a quiet game. The table-turning moment happened in the second ODI in Nagpur.

On Tuesday, Shankar not only chipped in with crucial 46 runs, but also bagged two wickets in the final over, giving India a 2-0 lead in the five-match series.

It was a gamble when Indian captain Virat Kohli handed Shankar the ball to bowl the final over. He had only bowled one over in the match before this. The Aussies needed 11 with 2 wickets in hand, and their set batsman Marcus Stoinis was on strike.

Going one step closer to his London Dreams, Shankar dismissed first Stoinis and then Adam Zampa, and won India the match.

Considering that the upcoming 2019 Cricket World Cup is going to be played in England, where pace works better than spin, Shankar has surely opened the doors for himself. India already have a strong spin department with Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav. If Shankar convinces the selectors in the coming days, he might take the World Cup place of Kedar Jadhav or Ravindra Jadeja.

Shankar will be aware of the fact that his batting must be better to strengthen his case, as he does not bowl beyond 130 kmph and is not always impactful.

With three more ODIs to go in the series, Shankar will be desperate to deliver with the bat in all the games. A few wickets to his name will be an added advantage. If he manages to catch the plane to England, it would be a fairy-tale end of a roller-coaster first chapter and hopefully a beginning to an even better one in his journey as an Indian cricketer.



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