Tamil Nadu’s Vijay Shankar will bat at No. 4 in the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 to be played in England and Wales from May 30 to July 14.
The selectors found the basket virtually empty for the crucial slot after openers Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan, and No. 3 in Virat Kohli, and in the discouraging circumstances, the selectors chose Vijay Shankar, who has not batted at No. 4 at all.
The selectors also visualised a situation wherein the 37-year-old Mahendra Singh Dhoni could breakdown and picked Dinesh Karthik as the second specialist wicket-keeper with a rider that the team management could consider him as a No. 4 batsman should the situation demand.
The Chairman of selectors, M.S.K. Prasad, Devang Gandhi, Sarandeep Singh, Jatin Paranjape and Gagan Khoda, and captain Kohli went into the meeting at the Cricket Centre with a comprehensive idea of the slots that needed to be discussed at length and the skills possessed by certain players with potential and experience. And much of it was around the No. 4 slot and also the necessity to make a choice between Rishabh Pant and Karthik, who did not figure in the five-match home series against Australia.
Two months ago the selectors had thrown sufficient hints of the Chennai-based 28-year-old all-rounder, Vijay Shankar’s selection for the quadrennial event, when they chose him for the five-match home ODI series against Australia.
After being a fringe player for some time, Shankar was given the big break in the third ODI against Australia in Melbourne in January this year. But in a match that India won by seven wickets and in which Dhoni scored an unbeaten 87 and Kedar Jadhav made an unbeaten 61, Shankar did not get a chance to bat. He bowled six overs, as a third seamer and conceded 23 runs without taking a wicket.
Shankar did not get a chance to bat in the first ODI against New Zealand in Napier and the second in Mount Maunganui, when Ambati Rayudu batted at No. 4, but when he finally got his first chance to bat, he made a 64-ball 45, batting at No. 6 in the fifth and final ODI in Wellington. The Indian team management was impressed by Shankar’s effort. He played in all five ODIs against Australia and made an impact in the second match in Nagpur, counter attacking the Australian attack and forging an 81-run stand with Kohli for the fourth wicket.
Prasad, the Chairman of selectors said, "After the ICC Champions Trophy (in 2017) we tried quite a few middle-order batsman which also includes Karthik. We also tried Shreyas Iyer and Manish Pandey. We gave a few more chances to Rayudu, but what Vijay Shankar offers is three-dimensional. Apart from his batting, he can bowl. If the conditions are overcast, which the team may encounter in England, he may bowl a bit. He is also a fantastic fielder. These are the factors that went in his favour.
He is a batsman-bowler and we are looking at him to bat at No.4 to begin with, but there are options in Karthik and Jadhav. So nothing went against Rayudu, it’s just that things went in favour of Vijay Shankar. He scored in bowling and fielding ahead of Rayudu.’’ Explaining the committee’s position in the choice of Karthik, Prasad said, "We debated his (Pant) case at length and all of us felt that either he or Karthik will come into the playing XI if Mahi (Dhoni) is injured. If it happens to be a semifinals or a crucial game, wicket-keeping also matters. So that’s the only reason we chose Karthik, otherwise Pant was almost there.’’ Prasad also revealed that Ravindra Jadeja comes in as an all-rounder. "The pitches could be a lot more dry during the second part of the World Cup and he can be handy. We have a luxury of seven bowlers and this is one of the most balanced sides we have picked. K.L. Rahul could have a role in the top order; he is the reserve opener, but it’s for the team management to decide the ways of using him,’’ Prasad said.
Virat Kohli (Capt), Rohit Sharma (vc), Shikhar Dhawan, KL Rahul, Vijay Shankar, M.S. Dhoni (wk), Kedar Jadhav, Dinesh Karthik, Yuzvendra Chahal, Kuldeep Yadav, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah, Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, Mohd Shami