Vijay Shankar (R) plays a shot during the third Twenty20 international cricket against New Zealand in Hamilton on February 10, 2019. Image Credit: AFP

Dubai: Even two months back, Vijay Shankar was yet another outsider trying to stake a claim in the Indian one-day cricket team. Today, the 28-year-old is being talked about as a player worthy to make the cut in their World Cup squad.

In the Nagpur ODI against Australia, Vijay proved that he has nerves of steel by bowling the last over of the match and took two wickets with his accurate medium pace to give India a narrow eight-run win on Tuesday. Earlier, he also cracked 46 off 41 balls at a crucial stage of the game. India need such a match-winning all-rounder, especially to bolster their chances of lifting the World Cup in English conditions.

Shankar is an excellent middle order batsman, his straight-bat punches being a treat to watch. Born in Tirunelveli, in India’s southern state of Tamil Nadu, Shankar’s love for the game began on the terrace of his house. His father and brother, both of whom had played at club level in Tamil Nadu, created practice nets and taught him the basics of the game. He began as an off-spinner but turned into a medium-pacer at the age of 20. The reason for the change was that because Tamil Nadu team was made up of very good spinners and to reach the state team, the only way out for him was to become a medium-pacer. He got the support of a personal coach in S. Balaji, a former Railways player.

Within three years of turning into a medium-pacer, Vijay sharpened his batting skills and made it to the Tamil Nadu Ranji Trophy team and became a star performer of the 2014-15 season. In the Ranji Trophy knockouts, he sparkled with knocks of 111, 82, 91 and 103 to pile up 577 during the season.

A call to play for the India A team against Australia A in 2016 followed and in the very first match, Vijay cracked a half-century. He also sparkled against South Africa A team, improving dramatically as a very good all-rounder by sharpening his bowling skills. If not for a series of injuries, which included a knee problem, Shankar could have reached the Indian team earlier.

It was during this phase that his father and brother’s advice of learning to accept injuries as part of a sportsperson’s injury helped him. In 2014, though Shankar was picked for the Indian Premier League, he got to play only one match for Chennai Super Kings in which he got to bowl just one over but did not get a bat.

In 2017, he got picked for Sunrisers Hyderabad and played in four matches and in 2018, Delhi Daredevils roped him in only to be traded back to the Sunrisers for the 2019 IPL Season.

Though Shankar has fast emerged as a strong candidate for the World Cup, the all-rounder does not want to pressurise himself about it. “I’ve said previously also that I never think about the selection or World Cup thing because it’s a long way off from now. Every game is very important. I just look to give my best and win a game for the team,”