Defending Ranji Trophy champion Madhya Pradesh did not see it coming. Then they did, at noon on Wednesday. In walked Andhra captain Hanuma Vihari, with a broken left forearm to face seamer Avesh Khan, who gave him the fracture on Tuesday.
Vihari had retired hurt on 16 after the blow on the opening day of the Ranji Trophy Elite quarterfinal. Scans revealed a fracture that would put him out of action for four to five weeks.
“There is no chance (he can bat). But knowing him, he might just walk out if he feels the team needs it. He has not agreed for a PoP (Plaster of Paris) yet and is managing with a cast for now,” an Andhra official said.
Yet, Vihari did bat, but left-handed. The 29-year-old right-handed batter took a southpaw’s guard, with a unique marker to protect his fractured arm. The move looked courageous, and a statement of intent in the rough and tumble of domestic first-class cricket.
Vihari and acts of defiance are not strangers. Struggling with an injured hamstring, he hobbled but held on with Ravichandran Ashwin to help India salvage a gritty draw against Australia at Sydney in 2021.
Vihari walked in after Avesh dismissed Prithvi Raj Yarra, leaving Andhra at 353 for nine, just before lunch. Avesh was the first to have a quick peek at the Andhra dugout after taking Prithvi’s wicket. Surely, this was a wrap. But it wasn’t. Avesh shrugged and trudged back to his bowling mark as Vihari came out.
There were two balls to go in the Avesh over. The bowler seemed to have softened up, the chirps from the slip-cordon waned and the Andhra dugout could not believe what they were witnessing.
Vihari saw off the two deliveries: a block, and a leave outside the off-stump. Later, the left-handed Vihari played an exquisite cut to an Avesh delivery with his top-hand (right) and the ball raced through point for four. Whistles from the stands echoed throughout the stadium as an upright Vihari swept off-spinner Saransh Jain through square-leg for four.
Nineteen balls endured, Vihari, with an able ally in Lalith Mohan, guided Andhra to lunch. The bravado of the ‘21 Sydney survivor, however, ended with just one ball in the second session. But a statement was made. Andhra posted 379 in the first-innings.
Vihari had extended the session by nearly 40 minutes.
He explained the reason for his gambit after close of play. “My hand has a complete fracture. It’s on the forearm. The doctor had advised me not to bat and even our physio said I shouldn’t. But when the wickets were falling, I got an idea, ‘why not bat left-handed with a single hand?’
“You never know. Even if I faced 10-15 balls, even if it’s 10 runs extra, it would matter. Setting an example was my main intention. If I give up, then the team spirit will go down. But if I go out there in the middle, even if I don’t get any runs, get out first ball also, that’s not a problem. But me being there, setting an example was important for me,” Vihari told Sportstar.
While he didn’t take the field later, stand-in captain Ricky Bhui was ably supported by his seamers who scalped four crucial wickets and MP ended the day on 144, trailing by 235.
Vihari lauded the third-wicket stand between Bhui and Karan Shinde after his injury on Day 1. Bhui (149) and Shinde (110) put on a 251-run partnership. However, after breaking the partnership, MP bowlers took seven wickets in an hour, leaving Andhra at 353 for nine, just before the scheduled lunch.
Vihari assessed the Holkar Stadium turf as a good sporting wicket. “There’s something for the bowlers and batters can also find runs if they do well. We showed that with the way Ricky and Karan batted. I think it will remain the same tomorrow as well. It was a crucial partnership; 251 runs weren’t easy on this wicket. It’s not easy for the new batters as well, which was evident today.”
He said it was imperative Andhra should not lose intensity and did not read too much into a possible first-innings lead.
“I don’t think the game will be decided by the first innings. It’s a five-day game. Every session is important. We have to ensure we get the (remaining) six wickets tomorrow and then bat well. Bat well and put them out of the game, that should be our gameplan. We shouldn’t rest with the first-innings lead.”