Career “was stuck in elevator” but Vijay Shankar breaks free finally, with a hundred that saved the game for Tamil Nadu

When the full-fledged domestic season began this September, Vijay Shankar was almost a forgotten man. Then there have been days where he has trended, often for bad reasons. Like when a different all-rounder had a field day. On Friday, Vijay Shankar started trending briefly again on Twitter, for good and bad reasons. His sixth first-class century against Mumbai at the Brabourne Stadium ensured Tamil Nadu were able to draw the fourth round fixture. And that the day coincided with Kapil Dev’s birthday meant, there were a few sarcastic posts as well and some even making it sound like resurrection.

““Once you have experienced cricket at the top level, you would like to keep growing. But for me it just felt like I was stuck in the elevator. There is a lot of cricket going around and you are missing each and every game because of injury. It almost feels like I’m starting all over again, where I will once again have to do everything I can to help the team do well,” Vijay Shankar told The Indian Express.

When play began on Day 4, with Tamil Nadu placed 380/4 in the second innings, Mumbai knew they had a genuine chance of scoring an outright win. Through centuries from captain Baba Indrajith and Pradosh Ranjan Paul, Tamil Nadu had kept the hosts at bay on Day 3, but the job was not even half done. They still had plenty to do to avoid their second defeat of the season and had only Shahrukh Khan left to come followed by the tail.

Vijay Shankar, who resumed the day at 43, shared a 221-run partnership for the fifth wicket with Paul who went on to make career-best 169 as Tamil Nadu took one point home. For Vijay Shankar, this century almost felt like his first. After injuring his toe during the 2019 World Cup, Vijay has been in and out of the Tamil Nadu team because of various injuries. He suffered multiple hamstring injuries, split his webbing twice and every time he made a comeback, it was just short-lived. And at the last IPL, he went into the tournament with a niggle in the right shoulder, which ended up being severe and resulted in him undergoing a surgery.

Although Vijay Shankar was initially sidelined for at least six months, his rehab at the National Cricket Academy went well and made a return well ahead of his schedule, right in time for the Ranji Trophy.

“It might sound cliché, but getting injured and doing rehab and making a comeback is not easy. You can do it once, but if you keep doing it repeatedly, it tests your resolve a lot. But somehow, this time thanks to my family I was in a good frame of mind and was able to put in double the work during my rehabs and come back fully fit,” Vijay Shankar says.

Although he has been injured in the past, this time his rehab process at the NCA took months; he even rented a service apartment in Bengaluru to avoid hotels. “Like I said, it is not easy and I didn’t want to get bogged down. And Rajinikanth and Dhanjay were of great help in getting me back into shape. Plus, there were VVS Laxman, Hrishikesh Kanitkar and Shitanshu Kotak. More than the physical part, it was challenging mentally to put in that work every day and when I think about it now, it feels good because I was able to get back much ahead of the schedule,” said Vijay Shankar.

In time he has been away from limelight, Vijay Shankar has not only disappeared from the national scheme of things but it even seemed as if Tamil Nadu cricket had moved on.

“Of course, there have been days where I felt like people have forgotten and even left-out, but what can you do about it” Vijay Shankar admits.

Vijay Shankar plays a shot. (File)

There have been suggestions that Vijay Shankar would be better off if he gives up bowling and plays mostly as a batsman. But watching him play in the Ranji games, one thing stands out. The 31-year-old looks fitter than ever before and has been regularly called up on by the captain to deliver those important overs. In the second round, Vijay Shankar even dismissed Hanuma Vihari with a bouncer that caught the batsman by surprise.

“I’ve always bowled and if the team needs me, I’m not going to say no. At the same time, if the captain doesn’t give me the ball, I can’t do anything about it as well. But from my end, I would be prepared to bowl because you have to be ready for situations. I have to keep improving my skills. And I’m not going to hold myself back by citing injury,” Vijay Shankar signed-off.

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