Feature

Déjà vu for Vijay Shankar as Tamil Nadu, Karnataka serve up another thrilling finish

Just like in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy final in 2019-20, this Ranji Trophy fixture provided thrills and spills

Deivarayan Muthu
12-Feb-2024
B Indrajith and Vijay Shankar shared a 125-run stand for the sixth wicket  •  PTI

B Indrajith and Vijay Shankar shared a 125-run stand for the sixth wicket  •  PTI

Vijay Shankar is on his haunches after completing a hard-run double in Chennai's stifling heat. His childhood friend - and batting partner - B Indrajith had also rushed across to the other end.
Tamil Nadu's chase of 355 is on like Donkey Kong. The C,D, and E stands, which have been thrown open to the public, are filling fast on Monday afternoon at Chepauk. There is still about three weeks to go before MS Dhoni arrives for CSK's preparatory camp, but the buzz among the crowd for a Ranji Trophy league game is discernible.
With R Ashwin and Washington Sundar away on national duty, and Sai Sudharsan out with a niggle, Vijay is the most recognisable face in this Tamil Nadu side. Plus, he shares his name with one of the most popular Tamil actors. When Vijay had walked out of the dressing room after stumps on day three on Sunday, a section of fans began screaming: "Thalapathy Vijay anna (brother), selfie please!"
Thalapathy is actor Vijay's moniker, which means commander or leader.
Vijay obliged the fans' request with selfies and autographs along with Indrajith on Sunday evening. On Monday, Vijay and Indrajith thrilled the fans again, this time with a 125-run sixth-wicket partnership at a run rate of above four runs an over. They came together when Tamil Nadu were 199 for 5 with Karnataka pushing for victory on a fourth-day surface that was offering sharp turn as well as variable bounce.
While Indrajith defended resolutely and protected one end, Vijay showed attacking enterprise and disrupted the lengths of Karnataka's inexperienced spinners with sweeps and reverse sweeps.
Vijay isn't too big on reverse sweeps, but he was ready to do something different on a turning track. After Tamil Nadu passed 300, there was a sense of panic in the opposition camp, with captain Mayank Agarwal, Manish Pandey and Devdutt Padikkal getting together for a mid-pitch conference.
Agarwal then posted nine men on the boundary, including two at deep third and two at deep square leg. After Vijay and Indrajith had countered Karnataka's spinners, the fast bowlers kept digging the ball into the pitch and hiding it away from the reach of the batters.
Suddenly, a Ranji game had turned into a one-on-one shootout. After Indrajith was run-out for 98 off 194 balls by V Kaverappa off his own bowling, it was down to Vijay vs Vyshak Vijaykumar. Tamil Nadu needed 29 off the remaining 18 balls of the game, with the crowd right behind Vijay. Former India wicketkeeper and TN captain Dinesh Karthik was also in attendance at Chepauk towards the finish.
Having packed the square boundaries on both sides, Vyshak's plan was simple: keep it short, and take it away from the swinging arc of Vijay. Vyshak banged the ball into a hard length and darted it wide - it probably finished wider than a set of stumps outside off. Vijay managed to somehow reach the ball, but could only swipe it to Agarwal at the long-on boundary.
Dismissed for 60 off 107, he was on his haunches once again before dragging himself off the field. In the next over, rookie S Lokeshwar holed out to long-off and Tamil Nadu ended up with a draw.
It was déjà vu for Vijay and Tamil Nadu once again. In the 2019-20 Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy final in Surat, Vijay had played a sparkling cameo, but he fell at the final hurdle as Karnataka won by one run. With four needed from two balls in that game, Vijay was run-out while returning for a second, and it's something that still haunts him.
"I really wanted to cross the line today because four years ago in that T20… even in that innings I was there. I got the team very close but couldn't cross the line," Vijay said after stumps on Monday. "Today again, we came closer to it, and I think it's one of the finest chases that you can see. Fourth-day wicket, over 350 to chase, and I think it was a fantastic effort.
"You have to go all out for the team. Having come so close, you don't want to just play it off. When I was there, I wanted to back myself to hit those couple of sixes, but it was not an easy wicket to get those sixes… Even you would have thought the match would get over by lunch or so (laughs)."
Despite not securing an outright win in Chennai, Tamil Nadu are still in contention for qualifying for the Ranji Trophy knockouts. They still have one league fixture to go. "When we play well as a team and when we fight against all the odds - the wicket and everything - it gives good confidence for the team to keep moving forward and that's a lovely thing to have amongst the group," Vijay said.
Indrajith, too, was upbeat about Tamil Nadu's chances, and toasted the gripping finish. "The atmosphere was brilliant. First of all, to play a Ranji game at Chepauk is a special feeling," he said. "When I made my Ranji debut in 2013-14, I saw crowds like these, but after a very long time I'm happy that people came to support both teams.
"When I was batting, there was good support for Karnataka also. Usually, Tamil Nadu vs Karnataka is a high-octane game, and we didn't expect it to go this close. When I was inside, I thought I can cross the line and it would have been a good feeling, but we will take it (the draw) any day."
Indrajith and the rest of the Tamil Nadu players then chilled with Karthik in front of the Madras Cricket Club as the sun set in Chennai. Usually, Chepauk is a cauldron of emotion in March, April and May, but February 12 was fun too.

Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo