Vijay Shankar is a name Indian cricket fans will hear on loop this summer as he has been selected to be a part of India's 15-member squad for the ICC World Cup 2019. And if one is to go by chief selector MSK Prasad's words, the all-rounder may even be starting at number four in the opening encounter against South Africa in Southampton on June 5.
It is a dream come true for any sportsperson to be selected for their nation in a World Cup tournament and Vijay Shankar's last few months of success has culminated in that dream being realised. But unlike most sportsmen, Vijay Shankar owes his break in the national team to a filmmaker who is also a talk show host among other things – Karan Johar.
It was a January 6 episode of the Karan Johar-hosted talk show Koffee With Karan which resulted in Vijay Shankar being called up to the Indian team. On that episode, KJo hosted KL Rahul and Hardik Pandya, who were – till then – regulars in the Indian squad. But things went drastically south for the good friends after the episode aired as they were pulled up for comments which were deemed to be largely "sexist" and "misogynistic".
This episode caused a massive social media outraged and Pandya had to issue a public apology but that did not settle the storm or pacify the outrage. The Board of Control for Cricket in India subsequently banned the two cricketers and sent them back home from Australia where they were preparing for a three-match ODI series.
Consequently, Tamil Nadu all-rounder Vijay Shankar was called into the national team as a replacement for Pandya as he is the closest to the Baroda lad in terms of his skills. Shankar made his debut in the third ODI against Australia on January 18 but did not a chance to bat as MS Dhoni and Kedar Jadhav helped India win the series.
In New Zealand, the only time he got a chance to bat, he impressed with a solid 45 before getting run out resulting from a confusion between him and the man he replaced in the World Cup squad, Ambati Rayudu. In the home series against Australia, he batted well wherein he looked very solid in approach and execution despite not scoring a half-century. He impressed a lot of people with his temperament and also won a match for India with the ball in the last over.
Vijay Shankar has played only 9 ODIs for India and out of them, batted only five times with a highest score of 46. But the glimpses of good performance he showed were enough for the management to favour him over a faltering Rayudu in the World Cup squad, thus making him the most inexperienced man in the lineup.
"Feels really good to be a part of the World Cup squad. This is my first call-up for the World Cup, it's really special for any cricketer. It is very special for me as well. Just forward to a wonderful tour," Vijay Shankar said in a video message posted by Sunrisers Hyderabad on Twitter.
For a cricketer who was urged by the commentators to stay off strike during a run chase one year ago, it must be a very satisfying moment to be a part of his nation's World Cup team. While Vijay Shankar did well to grab onto the little opportunities he got, the very fact that he got an opportunity was due to Koffee With Karan and deep down, even Shankar will be thankful to the format of the show if not its participants or host.