Hanuma Vihari - Remember the Name
On his first Australia tour, Vihari, having played just 2 Tests, opened & successfully saw off the new ball at MCG.
“I hope Indians do not forget about Hanuma Vihari. I hope they do not forget about Vihari.”
Almost to the extent of being annoyingly repetitive, Sanjay Manjrekar, just moments before the epic game at Sydney was to come to a close, had a sincere request on air. Do not forget Hanuma Vihari. Maybe he was sending out a message to the management, who has been consistently irregular when it came to picking or dropping players or maybe he was addressing the keyboard warriors who have the tendency of switching allegiances with every over and every innings.
But why will they forget him, you ask? The number six who could barely run or barely stand had just played out 161 deliveries for 23 runs (no, no talk about “intent” here) to take India to safety in the third Test against Australia. He was struggling with his hamstring within the first 15 minutes with almost 50 overs still to bat, the Australians were all over him and Matthew Wade had devious plans. There was chatter about his injury, there was laughter about his injury. The new ball was doing tricks and the pacers were unrelenting. There was ugly banter directed towards him and his partner, and there was a long-tail to follow. There were flutters as he was dropped close to the end of day’s play. Plenty of distractions and plenty of pressure, but Vihari, along with Ravichandran Ashwin, found solace in their mid-pitch Tamizh conversations as they came out battered and bruised but with a draw for the ages.
A champion knock that will be remembered for a long, long time. So, why will they forget Vihari, you ask.
A few months prior, against the pace of Tim Southee and Trent Boult and Kyle Jamieson, Vihari had struck a fine counter attacking 55 in just 70 deliveries on a pitch in Christchurch that had plenty of demons on it. As the likes of Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane and Mayank Agarwal failed, Vihari, walking in at 113 for 4, tried to break the shackles with a quick knock that took India close to 250.
Let’s go back a few more months. Against West Indies - admittedly not the strongest team, but oh, they do have zip with the ball in their conditions - Vihari ended as the leading run scorer in the series, with knocks of 32, 93, 111 and an unbeaten 53 in two games. He had been singled out for effusive praise by Kohli, who applauded the cricketer’s temperament, which, in turn, helped calm the dressing room.
"Hanuma was the stand-out batsman in this game (second Test). According to the surface, it was a top class innings from him. He is someone who is sure of his game and it shows. The dressing room feels calm when he's batting. That's a quality he possesses naturally. He accepts and corrects his mistakes and plays with a lot of heart. Always up to do anything for the team.”
A few more months back. On his first ever tour of Australia, Vihari, having played just two Tests, opened and successfully saw off the new ball in the Boxing Day Test. Though he ended with scores of 8 and 13, he was at the crease for 80 and 53 minutes, respectively. He faced the second most deliveries in the second innings, where India were quickly reduced to 44 for 5 and then 106 for 8 declared against a lethal bowling combo.
And finally rewinding to his debut. Batting a total of 3 hours to end as the second highest run scorer in the first innings, Vihari brought all his skills and a certain calmness to the crease as he batted 124 deliveries to announce himself in style. He played late and with soft hands and helped India get close to England’s first innings score of 332. As he grew in confidence, he relied on his cover drives off Stuart Broad and Ben Stokes. There were no signs of nerves as Vihari stamped his mark in tough conditions against a tough side.
12 Tests. 11 of them overseas. 614 runs with one ton and 4 fifties. All against quality bowling attacks. The fourth highest run scorer in overseas conditions among Indians since his debut (yes, even above Virat Kohli, who has scored 583 runs in the interim). A decent strike rate of 42.57 overall and an average of 50 in wins or losses overseas (fourth highest among Indians).
And all of it was being forgotten over to accommodate Rohit Sharma, a highly successful ODI opener who had not yet stamped his authority in Test cricket abroad. Vihari, after scores of 16, 8 and 21 in the first two Tests was in the firing line, and could very well have missed out had the Indian management not pushed Rohit to open the innings. It forced Mayank Agarwal out of the way, as Vihari held on to his spot. But, only just.
That’s the thing with Vihari. He does not play in India where he can get big runs. Terms like “future star” and “talented” are not readily associated with him. He does not have the oomph that most IPL stars garner. Sandwiched between senior pros and the ever-in-discussion Indian wicket-keepers (Wriddhiman Saha/Rishabh Pant), Vihari is often overlooked and even made a scapegoat by the ever present critics on social media.
He has already been ruled out of the fourth Test, and, even if fit for the home Tests against England, is unlikely to get a call-up. Team India next play an overseas Test match in England in the month of July. That is a long time to forget what panned out at the SCG on Monday. Vihari on account of his personality might not be in the news till then. A few failures and he might again be in an iffy name in the XI. A cricketer who might always be under pressure, but a cricketer who has made it a habit of silently performing each time the team needs him.
And, for that, Vihari should not be forgotten.
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