A batsman of immense potential

Gade Hanuma Vihari… “You mature faster as a cricketer as you learn to handle many responsibilities.”-MOHAMMED YOUSUF

“If you don’t have goals, you don’t have direction. I want to keep improving. This is a crucial season for me and I am looking forward to doing well in the Ranji Trophy,” says Gade Hanuma Vihari. By Arun Venugopal.

“Could we talk after I finish my ice-bath? I will be there in 10 minutes,” Gade Hanuma Vihari makes a polite enquiry. Few would deny him the breather after a long day under the blazing sun at the M. A. Chidambaram Stadium.

Vihari, who turned 20 in October, is a batsman of considerable potential and, more importantly, one endowed with a stable temperament.

The Hyderabad cricketer, a member of the under-19 World Cup winning Indian side, had his first fling with limelight during IPL-VI. A man-of-the-match winning performance for Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) in a thrilling clash with Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) was his ticket to instant fame. More recently, in the Ranji Trophy season opener, he notched up two half-centuries against Andhra.

Vihari, who averages close to 40 in first-class cricket, is aware, though, that his journey has just begun.

Excerpts from a recent interview:

Question: When did you take up playing cricket seriously?

Answer: Like many, I played a lot of street cricket. I was born in Kakinada but brought up in Hyderabad, where I came to as a Standard III student. I always wanted to be a cricketer. When I was nine years old, I went to the St. John’s academy. John Manoj was the head coach and R. Sridhar sir was my personal coach. They have always backed me. I had a tough first few years at the State-level as I didn’t have enough turf-wicket exposure, but they ensured I didn’t lose motivation.

What do you think was the turning point?

When I was 16, I graduated to playing under-22 matches. I scored three hundreds in three innings and received my maiden call-up to the Ranji Trophy side. I made my first-class debut at 17.

Although personally you didn’t have a great run in the u-19 World Cup, how did the experience of being part of a winning team help?

Personally, it was disappointing, but the team winning the World Cup was the ultimate moment. That tournament made me more determined. To reach the highest level, you have to keep performing, especially in India where there is so much competition.

How do you approach your innings? What is your pre-match preparation like?

Before the game, I always tell myself I should enjoy my batting and forget about scores. On the eve of a match, I visualise for five-to-ten minutes the opponent’s bowlers and the conditions.

The IPL experience…

I was dropped for the quadrangular tournament before the under-19 World Cup. That made me desperate to score, which is disappointing because you should never get desperate. In the IPL, I decided to take things as they came and adapt my game to the situation.

It’s the experience of playing alongside and against legends that is the biggest takeaway. (Kumar) Sangakkara told me after the RCB game, “You are the best young player I have seen in many years.” That was very touching and I carried that confidence through the IPL.

Coach Tom Moody, too, had good words about my temperament. Darren Sammy is a fantastic guy; he’s the most fun-loving person in the side.

The support staff played a major role in creating the right atmosphere. It was a surprise that a new team bonded so well.

How important was the century against Mumbai in the Ranji Trophy last year in the context of your career?

In the first few seasons, I was getting out in the 30s and 40s. Mumbai had scored 400 and it was important for me and Akshath (Reddy) to bat for long. Even in junior cricket, I would make big hundreds. That habit took me through to 191, my maiden century.

Tell us about your family.

I come from a middle-class family. Having lost my father when I was 11, my mother has been a massive support. Besides managing the family-run business, she took very good care of my older sister and me. She backed my cricket wholeheartedly and will always be my first guide.

Were you good at academics?

I was a good student initially but, after cricket became top priority, studies took a back seat. I am still struggling to finish my Standard XII exams (laughing).

How much has cricket helped you evolve as an individual?

The game teaches you so many things, not only on the field but off it as well. You have to be humble and be good to everyone. You mature faster as a cricketer as you learn to handle many responsibilities.

What helps you unwind from the pressure of a hard day’s cricket?

I watch TV and read a lot of autobiographies. I read ‘Rahul Dravid — Timeless Steel’ recently. ‘Think like a Champion’ by Rudi Webster has been very motivating, too.

Your idols?

Sachin Tendulkar and V. V. S. Laxman. They are the reason I started playing the game. When I scored 81 in the Ranji match against Madhya Pradesh, batting alongside Laxman bhai was hugely helpful. His calmness rubbed off on me. Before the IPL started, as the mentor of SRH, he called me to his room and asked me to keep my mind uncluttered.

Do you set goals for yourself?

If you don’t have goals, you don’t have direction. I want to keep improving. This is a crucial season for me and I am looking forward to doing well in the Ranji Trophy.