Vihari Leaps Over Injury Hurdle to Pass Muster in County Cricket
Playing for Warwickshire in the County Championship helped Vihari get a hang of the hostile English conditions.
Hanuma Vihari sank his teeth into a stonewalling mission as India salvaged a hard-fought draw in the third Test against Australia last year at the Sydney Cricket Ground. In what was a lesson in pushing oneself to the limits in the face of adversity, the middle-order anchor battled a torn hamstring as he kept out 161 balls to see India through in a survival saga for the ages.
Having nursed the grade-two injury at the National Cricket Academy in Bengaluru, Vihari returned to action to lead Andhra Pradesh in the 2020-21 edition of the Vijay Hazare Trophy. The skipper started with a bang, compiling a neat 65 to gun down an ominous 332 posted by Vidarbha. However, things went downhill rather quickly as he failed to reach even double digits in the next five games.
The curtailed domestic season meant the Test specialist was short on game time and a maiden county stint with Warwickshire was just what the doctor ordered to lend him quality match practice ahead of the World Test Championship final and a five-match Test series in England.
Getting the green-light from the BCCI was not a hassle as they’ve always encouraged their red-ball personnel to play county cricket, especially before England tours. And off he went to the UK to ply his trade for the Birmingham-based team for at least three games in the ongoing season.
It was far from a fairytale debut as Vihari bagged a duck in the first innings against Nottinghamshire, with Stuart Board making him dance to his tunes in an unpleasant 23-ball vigil before nicking him off to Haseeb Hamid in the slip cordon. Batting at one drop, Vihari did open his account in the second essay but couldn’t trouble the scorers much, bowled neck and crop by Lyndon James for 8.
Vihari gave a better account of himself in the next game against Essex, chipping in with a vigilant 32 off 71 deliveries. Measured in his approach, the Indian stalwart cashed in on the most negligible errors in length, standing tall to unfurl an array of delicious square cuts and backfoot punches. Vihari looked determined to make the start count but hung his bat out to dry as James Porter’s nibbling outswinger grazed his outside edge. Although he didn’t throw it away in the final innings, driving on the up and flicking with aplomb to raise a fluent 52 off 115 balls as Warwickshire registered a pulsating seven-wicket victory over the defending champions at Edgbaston.
The unflustered knock was a testament to the fact that Vihari was slowly but surely acclimatizing to the English conditions, which have for long given nightmares to batsmen hailing from the subcontinent. A cherry could have been planted on the cake had the star overseas signing thrived in his subsequent outing for Warwickshire. But Vihari lost the plot in the third encounter against Durham, fetching another duck, after departing for an insipid 8 in the first innings.
Nonetheless, the short and sharp stint would have done a world of good to Vihari’s confidence. The 27-year-old is hopeful that the hard grind would help him in the high-stakes clashes versus New Zealand and hosts England. “It's been challenging as it's an early part of the season but I have gained good experience. Getting used to the climate and pitches here is the idea. Hope it helps during the WTC final against New Zealand and the series against England,” Vihari told news agency PTI.
England has, for time immemorial, proved a slippery slope for Indian batsmen. Hence, the tenacity and temperament Vihari brings to the table is worth its weight in gold as Virat Kohli and his marvellous men affix their eyes on the big prize.
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