He scored an eye-catching 46 in just 41 deliveries and took two wickets in the final over of the Australian innings to take India to a thrilling eight-run win.
Shankar came out to bat at 75 for 3 in the 17th over, with India under pressure after the loss of Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and Ambati Rayudu. He maintained his calm and composure and put his head down to forge a splendid 81 run stand for the fourth-wicket in just 71 deliveries with skipper, Virat Kohli.
Shankar dominated the partnership scoring an elegant 46 in just 41 deliveries – a knock that included 5 fours and one six. Kohli was only too happy to play second fiddle, contributing 31 off 30 in the stand. It is not often that the Indian captain gets a lesser share of deliveries and scores a lesser percentage of runs in a partnership.
Shankar was content to take singles initially as he tried to rebuild the Indian innings. Having got his eye in, he scored his first boundary off Coulter-Nile – a punch to the point boundary. A glance to the fine-leg boundary off Nathan Lyon, a straight drive to the long-on boundary, two delightful straight-bat punches off Marcus Stoinis over mid-wicket – a boundary and a six and a crisp drive over Adam Zampa’s head to the boundary - Shankar showed his class with some eye-catching stroke-play.
Most of his runs came on the on-side suggesting he is a stronger player off his pads on the leg-side – though he played some dazzling shots on the off-side too. His wrist work and bottom-hand play stood out throughout the innings.
Shankar looked in complete control, playing just two false shots in the 41 deliveries he faced and appeared to have time when playing his shots.
If not for the unfortunate run-out where he backed up too much and could not get back in time to a fiercely hit straight drive from Kohli which clipped the fingers of Zampa on the way to strike the stumps at the non-striker’s end – Shankar was set to get a big one.
Shankar had scored a crucial 45 in 64 balls – coming in at 18 for 4 (again absorbing pressure of early wickets and stabilizing the innings) – against New Zealand in Wellington in the only other ODI innings he has batted in his short career so far.
He had also smashed 43 in just 28 deliveries including 5 fours and 2 sixes, batting at Number 3 against New Zealand in a T20 at Hamilton – an indication that not only can he resurrect and build an innings after the fall of early wickets but if need be, also attack at the top of the order.
Shankar aggregates 192 runs in 6 limited over innings at an average of 32 and strike rate of 107.86.
He has scored 1254 runs in 42 innings at an average of 39.19 in all limited over innings since 2018 (including List-A and domestic T20). He has 15 scores of 40 or more in this time-frame – pretty impressive numbers for a batting all-rounder who can also chip in with the ball.
Shankar is also a useful medium-pacer who bowls a restrictive line and can hold up an end – he has an economy rate of 5.60 in six ODI innings and an overall economy rate of 5.02 in 55 innings in all List-A cricket.
He was taken for 13 in his first over today but returned to bowl a match-winning second over (final over of the match) where he got rid of the dangerous Marcus Stoinis (highest scorer of the Australian innings) and then cleaned up Zampa with a full and straight delivery in the blockhole - holding his nerve under pressure and taking India to a nail-biting victory.
Though Hardik Pandya is a certainty in the Indian starting eleven, the Indian think-tank could harbor the possibility of also playing Shankar as the second batting all-rounder. In such a case, the Number 5 position (from where he batted in Nagpur) is likely to be his preferred position.
Although MS Dhoni has sealed the Number 5 spot for the time being, the Indian think tank has given indications of being flexible with the middle and lower-order. Shankar could be a reliable option at Number 5 as Ambati Rayudu at Number 4 (career strike rate 79.60) and Dhoni at 5 (strike rate since 2018: 75.68) could stifle the run-rate and dry the boundaries in the middle overs – something which would be of concern to the team. India’s strike rate at Number 4 and 5 (combined) is amongst the lowest (81.77) in ODI cricket since the beginning of 2018.
This builds the case for Shankar. If he continues to impress with the bat and can register a few more significant innings in this series, there might even be a temptation to push him to Number 4.
Coupled with that he can always chip in with a few handy overs with the ball.
Shankar has indeed given the Indian management a new selection headache but a headache they would surely welcome.
First Published: March 5, 2019, 8:58 PM IST