Six months ago as Vijay Shankar made his comeback into the Tamil Nadu fold after a long injury lay-off, he feared that his career was stuck. Despite clearing a fitness test, he was overlooked for the Vijay Hazare Trophy, and in the Ranji Trophy that followed, he slammed three centuries as a reminder that he isn’t finished, yet. And now, on the back of a good performance for Gujarat Titans in the IPL, Vijay is now on the way up once again.
“During the injury lay-off, instead of sulking, he completely changed his mindset and having known him since childhood, I have never seen him this calm and relaxed,” says Vijay’s friend NS Chaturved, who also made it to the Tamil Nadu squad last season.
In a team that has Shubman Gill, Hardik Pandya, David Miller and Rahul Tewatia, Vijay is the one leading the strike-rate chart with 160.10. It has been that sort of season for Vijay, where he has surprised many with his aggressive batting – 15 sixes, the second-most for a Gujarat batsman behind Gill. In a way Gujarat Titans are reaping the rewards for choosing a player during a crucial phase, when he was out injured. Instead of releasing back into the auction, Gujarat retained him and this season, despite Vijay being fully fit and even expressing his intention to bowl, have unlocked the most out of his batting potential.
Technical work with Gary Kirsten
Apart from the confidence in his own batting, what also stands out this season has been the subtle tweaks Vijay has made to his bat swing and the opening up of the bat face. “I’ve been hitting the ball pretty well and worked on a few things even before the season,” Vijay has said. “Not just about playing ones and twos but also at times you need to get those boundaries when the team really needs it. So, it was just about my preparation. I prepared really well before the season and the small change that I made with Gary (Kirsten) helped me to open up a lot of shots that I had, but couldn’t do (play) it. Now, I’m happy that I’m able to play those shots,” he said.
The small change that Vijay talks about is more to do with the trigger movement with the bat, which now happens almost behind his right thigh and allows him to have one free swing. In the past, the trigger movement, that had the bat come down lower almost to his left hip, had hampered the bat swing a bit. He often found himself locked in a position that didn’t allow him to play a few shots. He couldn’t free his arms, so to speak.
Now, with the bat swing being a lot more free-flowing and having also opened up his stance, Vijay is yielding the results in the middle. More than the runs he has made, what has stood out the most about those big shots has been the way he is slicing the shots. For a player who has looked to bring down the bat straight at all times previously, this IPL Vijay is slicing them with a slightly open-bat-face when going for big hits. It’s the same advice that Sachin Tendulkar had given Cameron Green in this IPL.
Julian Wood, the renowned power-hitting coach, who believes bat swing is a non-negotiable element when it comes to T20 batting, explained what it does. “In T20 cricket, top T20 players still hit it straight, but they don’t play straight. They play in a slight angle which opens up a lot more areas and gives more range. The bat swing starts from the second slip,” he said. And this is what is happening with Vijay this IPL, where the bat swing starts from the second slip and there by widening his range and enabling him to inflict more damage on the opposition.
Farming, dieting, and saying no to filter coffee
Beyond the technical aspects, Vijay has also worked on improving his fitness levels. During the seven-month injury lay-off, apart from spending a considerable period of time at the National Cricket Academy in Bengaluru, Vijay would also bring plenty of changes on personal side too, with his favourite filter coffee, going completely out of his menu.
“After missing seven months of action, he was in no hurry to get back. Instead, he wanted to be 100 percent fit and put a lot of hard work into it. For a period of six months, he would often feel bored of doing the same mundane things. But, not for a day he took a break, and instead started to train twice a day. He started to understand that if you want to excel at the top level, you need to keep doing the boring things more and more,” Chaturved said.
The boring things that Chaturved refers to are a strict diet and spending at least a couple of hours in the gym apart from the usual fitness drills and skills training. On match days Vijay has also made it mandatory to run three rounds after the end of the game, which again has helped him improve his endurance. “For a player who had suffered a lot of injuries, he started to feel more confident about his body now. He discovered what his strengths are and what isn’t working,” said Chaturved.
Vijay’s friends and family too chipped in during this phase to help him come out of the shell. Instead of staying in a hotel during the rehab programme at the NCA, he chose to rent a service apartment for a more relaxed atmosphere. For a player who prefers going on long drives to unwind, this time the farm house in the outskirts of Chennai became the go-to-place to train and unwind.
“We even did a bit of farming to keep in good spirits and after a while his father even laid a concrete pitch so that he can train there without worrying about anything,” Chaturvedi says. “He has been at the receiving end of all the trolls before, and it feels good when the world is seeing the best of him now.”