Hanuma Vihari leaves his bat to do the talking
- The middle-order batter, not been picked since his heroic effort in the Sydney Test draw, has responded to the selectors’ snub for New Zealand series by scoring runs with India A in South Africa to return for the upcoming SA senior tour.
While the focus on the change in one-day captaincy and Test vice-captaincy has been intense following the Indian cricket board’s announcement of the Test squad for South Africa, batter Hanuma Vihai would feel pleased to have proved his mettle by doing what he does best—score runs—to be recalled to the side.
Vihari may not be a stylish batter in the Virat Kohli mould or a run-machine that coach Rahul Dravid was as the India No.3. From the innings he has played so far, however, Vihari is the type of player who knows how to adapt to the situation and get the job done for the team.
Still, with so much competition for places from youngsters, it also means he will be under pressure to stay competitive and keep his place.
The national selectors overlooked him for the home series against New Zealand. Following some criticism, he was belatedly added to the India A squad for the South Africa tour. It was a selection test for him while the reason floated was that it was to help him acclimatise ahead of India’s tour, which starts on December 26. If he failed, it would have been easy to drop him.
With 7,412 runs in first-class cricket at an average of 55.31, he knows the mechanism to get runs. If you give him the chance, he will cash on it.
The 28-year-old Hyderabad batter had scored three half-centuries across the three four-day “unofficial Tests” against South Africa. His sequence of scores against South Africa A is 25, 54, 72 not out and 63 (score from the second innings of the third game not included). You can’t ignore the numbers and he is back in the Test squad.
“We have to accept the fact and move on, there’s no point sitting in judgement (over not being picked for the New Zealand Tests). That’s what he has done,” Vihari’s long-time coach John Manoj said from Hyderabad. “Unfortunately, they had to send him to South Africa where he has scored three fifties. That he has played in such a fashion proves that he is a player ready to make a comeback from any stage. He has made the best use of the opportunity,” said Manoj, who has trained Vihari since he was 11-years-old at his St John's Cricket Academy.
HEROIC AT SCG
It is only natural for any player in Vihari’s position to feel demoralised. He sat out the entire England series, starting with the World Test Championship final against New Zealand in June. On return home, he was dropped from the squad. To prepare for the WTC final and the England series, he had gone almost two months in advance to acclimatise by playing County cricket.
Vihari, who made his debut in the final Test at the Oval on the 2018 England tour, has played 12 games, scoring 624 runs at an average of 32.84. Only one of the Tests have been at home, where India picking five bowlers and Rishabh Pant batting at No.6 seems to have put Vihari at a disadvantage. In his 21 innings, he has a century and four half-centuries, which means at least a fifty every fourth innings. His most valuable innings for India though was his 23 not out, facing 167 balls in almost four hours in a heroic effort to draw the Sydney Test in January, the springboard for India’s historic victory at The Gabba in the next Test to clinch a memorable comeback victory in Australia.
He was at the crease for 51.5 overs, most of them braving a painful hamstring injury. His unbroken partnership with R Ashwin that denied Australia victory lasted 42.4 overs. But for missing the Brisbane Test due to the injury, he could have built a stronger case to be picked for the WTC final against New Zealand, which India lost.
VVS LIKE OUTLOOK
His respected cricket coach said in many ways Vihari’s temperament is like his most famous student, VVS Laxman, the ability to take things in his stride. “He is a different type of cricketer. He is like VVS, more focused on his comeback, to give his 100% whenever he plays. He has the grit and determination to always handle the situation. He is playing the hard way. We all know that he has to bat at No. 6, we know how hard it is as he has to always bat with the tail-enders.”
For the balance of the current batting line-up, it doesn’t help Vihari’s case that Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane are also batters of a similar mould. All three like to play themselves in, take their time to build an innings. That is one reason the selectors could have ignored him for New Zealand when Virat Kohli was absent for the first Test.
“In this, people have their own opinion, but Vihari is definitely separate from Rahane and Pujara. Pujara has played enough Tests, he can open up and play because he is a permanent member. The same goes for Rahane, who was the vice-captain of the team. Vihari’s cricketing ability is different. Most of the time, he bats under pressure. They bat at No 3, 4 or 5, he bats at No. 6. It makes a lot of difference. To gauge him on that, I don’t agree as his coach and mentor.
“Vihari is technically sound, he is not as slow, the loose ball is always punished. It definitely shows he has a different way to handle the situation. It was a shock and surprise that he was not picked for the New Zealand Tests because he has only played his cricket in England, the West Indies, Australia and New Zealand, and in all the places he has performed. When Virat and Rohit were not there, he should have been given the opportunity, especially after saving the Sydney Test. But he was not preferred.”