MUMBAI: Tamil Nadu all-rounder Vijay Shankar — a parallel to Hardik Pandya in specialisation — recently made his international T20 debut at the Nidahas Trophy and a crucial two-wicket haul against Bangladesh in the group stage had initiated comparisons.

Cricket, as impulsive as the fans, threw Shankar a challenge in the thrilling final against the same opponent at the R. Premadasa stadium in Colombo on Sunday. His failure to finish the proceedings – 17 off 19 balls – raised a few eyebrows. In fact, had Dinesh Karthik not cleared the rope in the last ball, Shankar probably would have been a victim of blame game.

But it is to be noted that Shankar hadn’t batted throughout the series and the final was his first chance. There aren’t many ‘utility cricketers’ around, and Shankar’s credentials (right-hand bat/right-arm medium) can’t be ignored.

Baroda boy Pandya is a regular in India’s first-choice squad. The current Indian team touring the island is a mix of youth and experience, and it may be too early to write off a prospect like Shankar, who dismissed the dangerous Mushfiqur Rahim and Bangladesh skipper Mahmudullah in the first game. Those wickets helped India restrict Bangladesh to 139 for the loss of eight wickets.

“For me, what is more important is to get better and better every day. Because the pressure or comparing me with Hardik because he is also an all-rounder, I think most cricketers don’t like comparison but it is important for us to show what we have and give our best instead of putting ourselves under pressure,” said Shankar.

Pandya and Shankar’s first-class records are also similar. While the former has 1,043 runs — one hundred and seven half-centuries — along with 31 wickets from 23 games, the latter is on 1,671 runs — five hundreds and 10 half-centuries — along with 27 wickets from 32 games.

But the Baroda lad walked a bit ahead through his Indian Premier League (IPL) exploits for the three-time champions Mumbai Indians. Shankar’s passion and hard work is slowly getting him there. “I think the intensity with which I have been working, all that paid off with this and I feel it is just a start for me. As a cricketer, the constant thing is to keep improving and learning and I am really looking forward to the coming weeks,” he said.

“I think the inner strength that I have helps me stay calm. Obviously, when you are playing for India, it is special but I try to play each and every game seriously and my only thinking is to improve every day, so it has been good for me,” added Shankar, who also picked up the important wicket of Upul Tharanga in India’s second game against Sri Lanka.

Shankar believes the team management should be credited for allowing the rookies to express themselves. “The team management plays a huge part, they give us the freedom to express ourselves which is very important at this stage. The pressure will always be there, if we enjoy the pressure then we will be able to do well, but if we put ourselves under pressure, then we can get into trouble,” he said.

Shankar will ply his trade for Delhi Daredevils in the upcoming IPL and it remains to be seen if he can scale similar heights like Pandya.