Vijay Shankar has big shoes to fill. With a boy-next-door look, he doesn’t even come near to the sassiness possessed by Hardik Pandya, whom he is replacing in the Indian side for the Nidhahas Trophy. Despite both being seam bowling all-rounders, there is a difference in their on-field prowess too. Pandya comes across as an in-your-face bowler, with the abilities of surprising the batsman with his extra pace. Shankar on the other hand relies more on his batting, which doesn’t have the Pandya flair but ranks higher on the application part.
“I never compare myself with anyone. I don’t believe in that. Every cricketer is special in his own way. As a cricketer, I should try to better myself in every match,” said Shankar, bypassing all the comparisons with Pandya.
It’s not that easy though, certainly not for a country bereft of the luxury of seam bowling all-rounders. The team management’s clear-cut thinking of building up Shankar as a possible replacement of Pandya, escalates the comparison even more.
Shankar knows he lacks on the power-hitting part, something which gives Pandya the edge, particularly in the shortest format of the game and he is keeping no stones unturned to fill the void. “I have focused more on ball-striking abilities. I worked on certain drills with my coach S Balaji to increase my hitting range,” said Shankar.
In a top-heavy Indian batting line-up, it may well come down to a ‘strike from ball one’ situation for the likes of Shankar, who in probability, will be used as a floater in the middle order. “I am glad I have been amongst runs in the domestic competition in the shorter formats, which gives me a lot of confidence heading into the T20s.”
Confidence is something, Shankar is not short of. He is coming on the back of some healthy performances for Tamil Nadu, including a century and a fiery half-century in the Vijay Hazare Trophy.
For someone taking baby steps in international cricket, Shankar also has the luxury of having his statemates MS Washingtin Sundar and senior pro Dinesh Karthik for company.
"It is a familiar dressing room, having played with most of the team members (for India A), who have been chosen for the series in Sri Lanka. It will be nice to have them (Karthik and Sundar) also in the dressing room," Shankar said.
The Tamil Nadu all-rounder, who was part of the team for two Tests during the Test series against Sri Lanka last year, said that sharing dressing room helped him learn a lot.
"Being part of the national Test set-up is an experience I enjoyed. I learnt by watching the players prepare for matches. I have also been working on my bowling, trying a lot of new things," he added.
While he has had decent performances, Shankar termed his inclusion as a "pleasant surprise". Being a seam bowling all-rounder, the national selectors are looking at him as a substitute of Hardik Pandya.
"I am very happy to have got the call-up. It is a pleasant surprise. My aim has always been to keep improving and to do well in the opportunities I get. I was training when I got the news about my selection for the tri-series in Sri Lanka," Shankar said.
The 27-year-old all-rounder was picked up Daredevils for Rs 3.2 crore during the IPL auctions last month.