Hanuma Vihari, the new monk in the middle

Hyderabad boy Hanuma Vihari, who made his debut in England in 2018, has turned out to be an overseas specialist with eight Tests abroad and one at home so far.

“I have been training thrice a week and I have been conscious about my diet and fitness as well. I have been preparing well, though I know the matches are quite far away, maybe in November or December and I am doing whatever little I can,” says Hanuma Vihari.   -  AP

Hanuma Vihari is the new-age Buddha. He meditates with a cricket bat in the middle, and he can do that for hours. Coming from Kakinada in Andhra Pradesh, the right-hander knew he had to be meticulous to earn an India cap.

They say behind every successful man, there stands a woman; he had two — his mother Vijayalakshmi and elder sister Vaishnavi.

Vihari lost his father early and since then, his mother took charge and constructed a practice pitch in the outskirts of Hyderabad. She, along with her daughter, has even fed him with deliveries through the bowling machine.

It’s about to be two years since his debut in England. And in his nine-Test journey so far, patience has been a highlight. He knows the art of leaving the balls. Even more strange is his regular appearance in overseas Tests and limited exposure at home. In a chat with Sportstar, Vihari spoke on his preparations for the Australia tour, experience in New Zealand and how the dream series in the West Indies in 2019 made him stronger.

We know that you have resumed training at a makeshift nets facility. How is it coming along?

It has been good so far. I have been training thrice a week and I have been conscious about my diet and fitness as well. I have been preparing well, though I know the matches are quite far away, maybe in November or December and I am doing whatever little I can. I have a help with throwdowns, so it is going well. I haven’t started bowling yet but maybe, I can do that in a couple of weeks’ time.

You have faced world-class bowlers in Australia, New Zealand, England and the West Indies, where you scored your maiden Test hundred. How did you handle bowlers like Shannon Gabriel, Mitchell Starc, James Anderson, Trent Boult and the like?

It is easy to get intimidated by the quality of bowlers but I was really confident of my skills.

Gabriel bowled quite well in the first Test against England. But he didn’t trouble you much at Kingston…

He is a wicket-taking bowler. He has pace and height. He can intimidate any batsman, but I ensured that I left the balls which were not in my area. I tried to wait for the balls patiently. So I waited for him to make a mistake, and I capitalised on that. I was happy I could do that.

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He is seen as the next big thing from the West Indies. What would be your advice to the batters who will face him?

He comes in hard. He has the pace so he pushes the batsman on the back-foot and tries to pitch it up. You may have seen how he got Burns in the first innings at Southampton. He was trying to bowl the yorker. He will try to push you back and bowl a really full one. You have to wait, wait and wait.

What do you think went wrong for India in New Zealand [2-0] after an unbeaten run in the World Test Championship fixtures?

First of all, you have to realise the conditions were difficult to bat with the amount of grass left on the pitch. I know it is same for both the teams but we were a bit unlucky when we bowled.

In the second Test, we bowled really well in the first innings and we should have got the lead but their lower order contributed and they took the game away from us.

Vihari has enjoyed his time at home during the lockdown, but has also kept himself ready for the battles ahead.   -  V. V. Subrahmanyam

 

You scored a quick 55 hitting 10 boundaries in the second Test in Christchurch. What was the plan?

It was quite challenging but I realised quickly after the first Test that runs were important. It doesn’t matter if you bat 80 overs or 100 overs, you have to put runs on board. So I could only think of counter-attack at that point of time. Nothing else was a good option on that kind of wicket. From 113/4, I took it to 190/4 before I got out. If I had carried on, I could have saved the game but unfortunately, I got out. But I was playing to a plan.

It was a dream series for you in the West Indies with two half-centuries and the 111 at Kingston. But you were dropped for the home Tests [except the first Test against South Africa] including the pink ball match against Bangladesh. How tough was that period? It can affect a player’s confidence…

When you are not playing, it does. And I have played mostly in Tests abroad in challenging conditions, but that is how it is. If you have to play for India, you have to wait for your turn till you get your permanent spot. While you are having the opportunity, you have to make the best use of it.

READ| Vihari on Shannon Gabriel: You have to wait, wait and wait

But you were playing a lot of cricket during that period...

I was playing a lot of cricket. I played Ranji Trophy and India A matches. I know it is not the same level as that of international cricket but match practice is match practice. I was confident that once I get the opportunity, I can make the best out of it.

How are you looking at the Australia tour with the inclusion of Steve Smith and David Warner this time around?

The preparations have already started. I know for a fact it will be more challenging than last time. We are up for it. The wickets will be different from what we saw in New Zealand. You can spend time in the middle in Australia, like how Cheteshwar Pujara did in the last tour. If you spend time, you will get runs. The batting unit is looking forward to the tour.

Rohit Sharma is a white-ball star and now he has walked into the Test side too. How much of an impact does that have on youngsters?

He makes an impact straightaway when he opens, like he did in the home series against South Africa. He adds a different dimension to the team. If an opener gives you a flying start, it sets up the middle-order nicely. We missed him in the New Zealand Tests [due to injury]. His starts would have been handy. His inputs will be valuable to youngsters when we go to Australia.

Rohit Sharma in action during a World Test Championship fixture.   -  AP

What are your thoughts on the Andhra cricket team? It made the quarterfinals of the Ranji Trophy in the 2019-20 season...

It is always improving. The graph is going up as a team. We are a young side and it will take us a couple of more years to push for the championship. It is important to stay consistent with the team. The team should not be tinkered with too much. The players’ confidence is very important to me as captain and also, the administration. You have to back the right players and make sure they get the opportunity. We also have a good ground in Ongole which assists the fast bowlers.