The importance of the utility or bits and pieces players in limited overs cricket cannot be overemphasized. A cricketer who can contribute with both bat and ball is a priceless asset to any side. From the Indian viewpoint the best example would still be the 1983 World Cup triumph. India had Kapil Dev, Roger Binny, Ravi Shastri and Madan Lal in the ranks and each of them in addition to Mohinder Amarnath contributed substantially to the ultimate triumph. Thirty six years later we have another World Cup coming up in England and again the presence of utility players will be a boon for the Indian team.
Fortunately there are a number of such cricketers around and indeed there may be an embarrassment of riches as far as this department is concerned. In the 15-member squad there should be two, at most, three bits and pieces cricketers with the remaining places going to batsmen (including the wicketkeeper) and specialist pace and spin bowlers.
Hardik Pandya is almost a certainty in the squad. But a player who for some time has been on the fringe could well have taken a major step towards selection for the World Cup on Tuesday. Vijay Shankar has impressed so far in his brief career with his stroke playing batsmanship and his steady medium pacers. But against Australia in the second ODI at Nagpur he displayed another facet of his cricketing skills – an unflappable temperament. This is a quality that is essential for a cricketer to excel at the international level and the 28-year-old Shankar displayed it in abundant measure.
Shankar had bowled one over for 13 runs midway through the innings but as he has said he was mentally prepared to bowl at the death since the main bowlers would have completed their quota by then. Sure enough for the 50th over with Australia needing ten to win with two wickets in hand Virat Kohli gave the ball to Shankar. Far from being nervous in a tight situation he was ready for the big occasion and delivered in style getting the dangerous Marcus Stoinis leg before with the first ball and bowling last man Adam Zampa with the third to seal an eight-run victory.
The all-rounder from Tamil Nadu had earlier shone with the bat. Coming in at 75 for three he and Kohli turned the innings around with a fourth wicket partnership of 81 before Shankar was run out for 46 off 41 balls with five fours and a six. Shankar’s international appearances may be limited – he has played just six ODI and nine T-20 internationals – but sometimes you don’t have to see too much of a player to know that he is a long term prospect. With his showing on Tuesday and the promise of more such all-round displays to come Shankar could well have clinched one of the utility player’s berths in the World Cup squad.