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'MS Dhoni is tactically brilliant and always ahead of the game,' says Indian Test batsman Hanuma Vihari (Exclusive Interview)

  • Last one and half years have gone by pretty fast for Vihari, but he remembers each incident as clear as a crystal.
Aakash Arya
SENIOR ANALYST
Exclusive
Modified 18 Dec 2019, 16:47 IST
Hanuma Vihari
Hanuma Vihari

A disastrous average of 11.83 in six games at the Under-19 World Cup can be psychologically damaging and longlasting for a young cricketing mind. But to find out your positives and emerge stronger reflects the kind of tenacity and perseverance that helps you excel at the highest level.

Well, Hanuma Vihari fits into the frame smoothly.

Called into the Indian Under-19 team as a replacement, Vihari suffered one of the most challenging times as a batsman in Australia. He scored only 71 runs in six games in a World cup winning campaign for team India. When the world was watching some of the young stars like Babar Azam and Quinton de Kock being moulded into future leaders, a teenage Vihari from Andhra Pradesh was busy figuring out his game.

Also see – Big Bash League Most Runs

A stint with Hyderabad franchise in IPL 2012 presented him with an opportunity to go head to head against some of the purest and cleanest hitters of the game. Vihari knew exactly what his strengths were. He decided to go old-school and grind it out in domestic cricket for a reckoning in the senior team. A long-shot it was. But he knew, consistent Ranji performances were hard to ignore by the selectors and that someday, he would get his due.

A shift in the Ranji Trophy team, from Hyderabad to Andhra, did wonders to his batting. With an average of almost 60 in first-class cricket, the selectors couldn't prevent themselves from naming him as a replacement in India's tour of England in 2018. His selection in the playing XI ahead of Karun Nair in the fifth Test at the Oval raised eyebrows but Vihari remained unperturbed. Things started to fall in place. A half-century in England, versatility in the tour of Australia and then a maiden century in the West Indies made it hard for the captain to neglect his ability and ended up creating 'good selection headache' for Virat Kohli and the team management. A strong character with the bat, Vihari brings a lot to the table with his orthodox and canny off-spin and agility in the field, especially as a close-in fielder.

The last one and half years have gone by pretty fast for Vihari, but he remembers each incident as clear as a crystal. Sportskeeda caught up with the Andhra captain and talked about his journey in cricket so far and some of his memorable moments revolving in and around the sport.

Do you remember the Indian team call-up and your first innings at The Oval?

It [India call-up] was a pleasant surprise. I was in Bengaluru when I was called to represent India in the Test matches. When I went there, I didn't play the first game but got an opportunity to play at the Oval. It was a dream debut for me, as not only is it a historical ground but I also scored 56 runs in the first innings and took three wickets later. It was a great Test match for me and playing the likes of James Anderson and Stuart Broad was a great challenge and I enjoyed every bit of it.

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Define the emotions you went through after scoring your maiden Test century?

It [maiden century] was very emotional because any player wants to get his first century playing for the country, especially at the Test level. For this to come so early in my career was an extremely special moment and also that it was scored abroad [West Indies], made it even more special. You want to score runs away from India and I scored my first hundred in West Indies, so I was really happy.

How do you get your act together after a disastrous Under-19 World cup in 2012?

I had to grind a lot in the Ranji Trophy before coming into the Test team. I had a lot of time between representing India at the Under-19 level and the Test level and so I worked on my game, assessed where my game was and where I needed to improve. I focussed a lot on red-ball cricket because that's where I thought my strength was- playing long periods and having a good technique. And I am happy that I could represent India at the Under-19 and then at the Test level.

How did you cope up with a change of Ranji team, from Hyderabad to Andhra?

For the first six years, I was with the Hyderabad team, so the cultural difference is there. Although we speak the same language, there's a huge difference in cultures. Hyderabad is a more flamboyant place where most of the players are coming in from the city background. It took a little time for me to get settled in but I am very happy with the Andhra guys and hopefully, we can do something special here.

You have played Tests in England, Australia and the West Indies. How difficult and different is it to play on bouncier and pace-friendly pitches and how do you prepare for the same?

It wasn't a different challenge because as a batsman you have to be prepared for any challenges that come up. Even in the West Indies, it was a difficult kind of challenge but when you're touring abroad, obviously you have to expect some kind of a challenge, especially in New Zealand. So I try to prepare as much as I can to tackle those hurdles and hopefully try to come out on top.

I like to keep things simple and not complicate them. Yes, I do think about my technique while going on tours like Australia, England and New Zealand, but my whole game depends on my mindset and how strong it is while facing a particular situation rather than tweaking the technical aspect of my batting.

Your views on the Pink ball

Pink ball is more similar to the white ball than the red ball. It travels faster than the red ball and is completely different. It was a different sort of challenge to field with the pink ball.

With the IPL auctions coming up, what are your expectations?

No expectations as to such. I stopped putting expectations whether I'll get an IPL team or how much will I be bought for as these things aren't in my control. If I get an opportunity I'll do the best I can and to the fullest of my abilities to make a difference to the side. Right now I am playing the Ranji Trophy and my whole focus is on performing and leading Andhra well in the tournament.

A major difference in Virat Kohli's stance while playing in Test cricket and IPL is the front-foot movement. Do you bank upon such changes in bating technique while playing different versions of the game?

It [Batting technique] depends on the situation of the game, the shots you want to play. You don't make many technical changes. In any format of the game, you stick to your strengths and try to identify the areas the bowler is trying to bowl to. I don't try to change too much in my game but at the same time, I try to react to the situation of the game.

Is the current Indian pace attack the best in the world?

I think credit for the results of the recent past in Test cricket should be given to the entire bowling unit of India, especially to the fast bowlers. You need 20 wickets to win the Test match and they have been able to achieve that more often than not. Comparisons with the Australian pace-attack isn't fair but India's bowling unit is placed right up there as one of the best fast bowling units whichever played for the national team. Credit should also go to the bowling coach and the head coach for helping to bring out the best in them and hope they continue the good work.

A quick rapid-fire

Who is the best captain that you've played with or against?

Mahendra Singh Dhoni.

Tactically brilliant, ahead of the game and his success rate is good as well, so you have to rate him as the best captain in all the formats.

Your favourite non-Indian batsman?

AB de Villiers.

Player you idolized since childhood.

Sachin Tendulkar.

Is visibility a factor while playing with the pink ball?

No.

Published 17 Dec 2019, 20:05 IST
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