An aspiring international cricketer says he would drop anything he was doing if he was selected for the UAE – even if it meant travelling back from the other side of the world.
Shivank Vijaykumar is set to board a flight Thursday night to Australia, where he will dovetail a second season playing grade cricket with studying for a chemical engineering degree.
The Abu Dhabi-raised wicketkeeper has a long-term aim to earn a place behind the stumps for the national team, but is happy to be testing himself abroad for now.
“I feel like stepping outside your comfort zone helps to be tougher, mentally,” Vijaykumar, 21, said. “That carries over into your game. Playing with guys from different countries, being exposed to a higher level, in different conditions is a good challenge.”
The fact he has developed to the point where he is a paid overseas player in Australian grade cricket marks a stark transformation from when he first started out in the game.
Now he maintains a strict diet and conditioning programme that includes training with the UAE international rugby player Sam Bolger.
But he confesses he was overweight when he first came to cricket, and his coaches say he had little aptitude for the sport either back then.
Sandeep Dhuri, his long-time coach at the Zayed Cricket Academy in Abu Dhabi, says Vijaykumar’s progress has all been thanks to a remarkable work ethic.
“He was very chubby, fat like a potato,” Dhuri said. “What you see now is totally different to the early Shivank.
“He is very hard working, dedicated, and passionate. What Shivank is today is only because of these things.
“He has played age-group cricket for the UAE, which is one feather on his CV.
"Now going abroad and playing cricket, with his passion and dedication, I am sure he is going to succeed wherever he goes.”
Vijaykumar initially planned to try to catch the eye of the UAE selectors while studying in Dubai, and earned a sports scholarship to do so, awarded by Adam Gilchrist, the former Australia wicketkeeper.
He subsequently opted to try his luck abroad, first in Perth, and now in Melbourne, where he will be joining his new club on Saturday.
“Getting into a better school, a better university, getting better grades, everything has been through cricket and the confidence it has given me,” he said.
“Going abroad has only enhanced that confidence to believe in myself. Hopefully the results will follow.”
He returns back to the UAE frequently enough to maintain his visa, and importantly his eligibility to play for the UAE.
Having been born in Gujarat in India, he qualifies to represent UAE on residency grounds, having grown up in the capital.
There have been cases in the past where players have travelled abroad to study, only for their qualification for the national team to lapse.
Rameez Shahzad, who is now finally restored to the UAE middle-order, went a decade out of the team after he attended university in the UK.
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Vijaykumar wants to follow the example set by his former UAE Under 19 colleague Chirag Suri, who has just been recalled to the senior national team.
Suri and Vijaykumar opened the batting together for the UAE at the U19 World Cup in 2014, a competition that included the likes of Kagiso Rabada, Sami Aslam and Kusal Mendis.
He knows he has slipped from view when it comes to national recognition since that tournament, but he has stayed abreast of developments via his friend Suri.
“We had a chat, and from what I heard from him, there have been a lot of positive changes, to UAE cricket,” he said.
“They want to bring in youngsters from the grassroots, but I never thought to walk in and introduce myself, and I’m unaware if they know me or not.”
The national team have two senior wicketkeepers vying for the gloves at present, Ghulam Shabbir and Saqlain Haider.
And, given that he already gave away one year of education to focus on the U19 World Cup, Vijaykumar is content to keep learning new tricks abroad for the moment.
“If I feel like if it is the right time for me to come in and give it a shot, I know I’ll be ready,” he said.
“Playing in Australia, in better conditions and much harder competition, I’ll be mentally much better prepared to come down here.
“I’m not too worried about trying to make an impression already. I’m happy to wait those two or three years, for when the time is right.”