Vijay Shankar's two-story independent house is tucked away in a corner of a lane in Madipakkam, in south suburban Chennai. The first thing that meets the eye is the car-park area, where Vijay began his journey with his father H Shankar and elder brother Ajay, who plays lower-division cricket in Tamil Nadu. As a teenager Vijay crunched balls in that small space kept aside to park cars with his father and brother, often getting hit while fielding.
As Vijay rose through age-group cricket, the car-park area just wasn't enough, and the unruly Chennai traffic meant that travelling to the Chakrathar Rao academy, run by the former Ranji cricketer, ate up at least two hours.
Speaking to ESPNcricinfo, H Shankar said, "With the car-park slot being 15 feet in width and around 35 feet only in length, I felt it was very, very small and restricted his strokeplay, and the travelling time was tiring." What did he do then?
The twin terraces of the house were levelled into one and turned into a personal training area with nets, a synthetic astro turf, and a bowling machine. The teenager could cut, drive, pull, or bowl at any time.
Vijay's grandmother flips through TV channels on a television set that is housed in a cabinet filled with many trophies as Vijay, 24, dressed in shorts and a t-shirt, seems relaxed.
No bulging biceps. No funky hairdos or tattoos. Vijay is almost the archetypal boy next door - he likes spending time with friends, setting off on long drives, and is a fan of Manchester United.
On the field, Vijay can grind attacks and shape the innings from the middle order besides pitching in with medium pace. He also showed that he can shift gears during his 86 for India A against Bangladesh A in Bangalore. He sent one clattering onto the glass front of the M Chinnaswamy Stadium media box, which had his personal coach S Balaji saying: "For a vegetarian he can hit the ball a long way."
On the first day of Tamil Nadu's Ranji opener against Baroda Vijay could only watch from the stands, as he sat with a strapped shoulder, and one could sense that he wanted to be out there in the middle. Later on, he joined the team after the thrilling win.
Having recovered from the shoulder injury, Vijay's return for the fifth round will bolster Tamil Nadu who found themselves at the wrong end of a similar heist against Mumbai.
Vijay also suffered injuries at the start of the 2014-15 Ranji season but bounced back strongly, which mirrored Tamil Nadu's comeback as well. He tallied 577 runs in seven matches, including two centuries and three fifties, as Tamil Nadu advanced to the final only to be beaten by Karnataka. Vijay then scored a fifty on India A debut against an Australia A attack comprising Gurinder Sandhu, Sean Abbott and Steven O'Keefe. He followed it up with a resolute 74 not out in the fourth innings, guiding India A to a draw against South Africa A in Wayanad.
Remind Vijay of the Ranji knockouts, where here he piled up scores of 111, 82, 91 and 103 in the quarter-final, semi-final and final, and he flashes a big smile like a kid does while navigating his toy car.
Vijay, however, conceded that injuries bring negative thoughts and lauded the strong support system that helped him quell them.
"It was not easy. You get negative thoughts when you keep sitting outside and doing nothing," Vijay said. "My family's influence has helped me stay calm even in the middle. My father, who has played a bit of cricket, comes to Chepauk to watch every game I play. My brother, Ajay, who plays lower-division games, and I discuss cricket often. My sister-in-law, my mother, grandmother, and the entire family have been the biggest support for me."
"I started training hard and did some knocking in the nets, and ensured that I did not give much time for those thoughts. I practised with my friends, my brother, when Apar [Baba Aparajith] and Inder [Baba Indrajith] are here, we practise. Even if there is nobody I go out to the nets and practise pace."
Vijay had started as an offspinner before switching to medium pace to lend more balance to an already spin-heavy Tamil Nadu attack. Vijay had some no-ball issues last season but worked them out with former coach WV Raman and produced timely breakthroughs.
"I want to be a genuine allrounder. I want to balance both and can't sacrifice one for the other," Vijay said.
Vijay has a special bond with the Baba twins, Aparajith and Indrajith, who share the same personal coach: "With Balaji Sir, it has been about 10 years for me. It is very nice to know where we are all now. All three, myself, Aparajith, Indrajith, are doing well at first-class level. This is the best thing we can give back to our coach.
"We have been playing together since Under-13 days. We know our games well. In the TNCA league, we have played for Vijay CC, Indian Bank together and then Tamil Nadu of course."
With M Vijay leaving on India duty, the onus is on Vijay Shankar to prove his fitness and act as the binding force for the state side again. While Vijay was wary of the challenges ahead, he believed that Tamil Nadu had it in them to go one step more this season.