“It’s too far from me,” Vijay Shankar says when asked about a possible comeback to the national team. Vijay had last donned the India colours during the 2019 ODI World Cup.
However, in yet another World Cup year, wearing a different shade of blue, Vijay has broken free from the shackles to register match-winning performances in the ongoing Indian Premier League (IPL). He seemed to have taken a special liking to Kolkata Knight Riders’ bowlers, with his highest scores this season - 63* on April 9 and 51* on April 29 - having come in the home and away games against Nitish Rana’s men. In six IPL matches, thus far, Vijay has scored 199 runs at an average of 49.75 and a strike rate of 165.83.
On Saturday, Vijay struck at a strike rate in excess of 200, en route to his 50 off 24 balls. He reached the mark with a sweep off Rana’s bowling that saw the ball soar over deep backward square-leg and disappear into the stands. He celebrated with a chest bump as David Miller walked in from the non-striker’s end to envelop him in a hug. Social media, as expected, was flooded with reactions. Users raved about the ‘3D player’ returning to form, with Rishabh Pant and Shreyas Iyer out with injuries. Vijay was, in fact, the top trend on Twitter immediately after the match concluded.
Vijay’s return to the spotlight has been gradual, backed by stellar knocks in his seven games in the 2022-23 Ranji Trophy. At one point, he had scored three centuries in three back-to-back games against Mumbai, Maharashtra and Assam. One of his two fifties in the season also came in the very next game against Saurashtra. That he was doing all of this having just recovered from a seven-month-long shoulder injury gap, made it all the more astounding.
“After surgery, it was tough for me to watch people play cricket. It was even difficult to just follow the scores. For a cricketer, that’s the most difficult part because you keep a tab on all the scores, including the first division league. With the support of my family, I could overcome that phase,” Vijay had told Sportstar.
|1||KKR vs GT||51*||April 29||Eden Gardens|
|2||GT vs MI||19||April 25||Narendra Modi Stadium|
|3||LSG vs GT||10||April 22||Ekana Stadium|
|4||GT vs KKR||63*||April 9||Narendra Modi Stadium|
|5||DC vs GT||29||April 4||Arun Jaitley Stadium|
|6||GT vs CSK||27||March 31||Narendra Modi Stadium|
Vijay Shankar in IPL 2023
Vijay, who was once seen as Hardik Pandya’s replacement when the latter was out for an extended period with injury, now plays under Hardik’s leadership at Gujarat.
“He is a fitter Vijay Shankar, and a more confident one. The amount of hard work he has done is terrific. At one point of time, it was looking it will go to the last over as well, but the way he hit a few balls, he just changed it and going forward you will see lot of innings like this from Vijay Shankar. I believe, in life, good guys go good places, and he is one of them,” said Hardik after GT’s latest match against KKR. Shankar scored five of the eight sixes GT hit at the Eden Gardens.
During a post-match chat with Miller, with whom he posted an unbeaten 39-ball 87 partnership, Vijay said, “That is what we need to do as middle-order batters. Sometimes you need to adapt as quickly. Looking at you and at our own teammates who have extraordinary skillsets to come and finish games or even play a tough situation. For me, I thought I should just learn something and as cricketers, should look to know and grow ourselves.”
The 32-year-old all-rounder says Gary Kirsten, batting coach and mentor at GT, helped him work on his batswing. “You need to be mentally really strong to come back (after an injury). And you know, I was working with Gary (Kirsten) here. He told me a few things where I felt, especially the batswing that I wasn’t getting. I worked a lot just before the start of the season and I feel really happy that it’s coming off.”
The defending champion is currently sitting atop the points table with 12 points from eight games. The side has managed to clinch a number of close games this season and Vijay credits it to GT’s tough training routine.
“The amount of practice we do as a team is unbelievable. Every individual in our team practises so hard. We find ways to come out good in difficult situations. There will be difficult situations be it in IPL or any T20 match. It’s about communicating well,” he said.
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