A tough lad who does not wish to give up easily…..
The stars have failed to align in favour of the Under-19 World Cup team that won the tournament for India in 2012. Unmukt Chand, India’s hero and a centurion in the finals has allowed his name to slip away while Smit Patel and Vijay Zol too fail to ring a bell. Only Sandeep Sharma courtesy his exploits in the IPL is a regular name while the staunch followers of Ranji cricket might recognise Rush Kalaria and Hanuma Vihari. The rest of the side has failed to create ripples on the international stage, which might not be as big a surprise considering the competition levels prevalent and the indifference with which most talented players are discarded away if they fail to perform consistently.
However, from the triumph in 2012 to an Indian call-up, Vihari’s journey was no bed of roses either. Snubs, self-doubts, and obstacles in the form of moving to a new domestic team came calling but his temperament and his calm mind in the direst situations helped him through his biggest test. His maturity had been vastly displayed as a child, when, aged just 12, Vihari scored a match-winning 82 just hours after his father and coach Satyanarayana passed away.
It was his father who introduced him to the world of cricket, encouraging and inspiring him to follow in the footsteps of Ambati Rayudu, who would practice his exquisite on-drives and shots square of the wicket in the local Gymkhana at Hyderabad when Vihari was just a child. Awed by his bottom-hand play, Vihari too would aim to ape his hero and overtime he even started drawing comparisons to VVS Laxman. His biggest compliment, however, must have come from Kumar Sangakkara who called the Indian as the ‘best young player” that he had ever seen. Sanga and Vihari were teammates for the IPL team Sunrisers Hyderabad back then but as luck would have it, a poor show in the 2015 season where he averaged just 9.75 saw him getting the snub for the following years.
Instead of getting downcast, Vihari worked on improving his strike-rate and he attributes the big hundreds that he has been piling on recently to his aggressive approach with the bat. “In the past, I was restricting my shots a little bit, but this year (2017/18), I have made a conscious effort to express my game, Even if I fail a few times, my intent and strike rate has to go up. Maybe the IPL snub (Vihari has failed to find a place in any IPL team since 2015) was one of the reasons I realized that if I don’t take my strike rate up, people won’t recognize my efforts,” he had quoted to Times of India earlier this year.
The impact of a greater rate while batting was there for all to see when Vihari scored his first triple hundred in the Ranji Trophy last season. Though the player would get to a double-hundred in the last four seasons, his slow approach meant that the 300-mark was still a distant dream but a renewed confidence about playing his strokes without restrictions ensured he reached the elusive mark. After scoring runs at an average of 94 in Ranji, Vihari cracked 378 runs with a strike-rate of 103.84 in the Vijay Hazare to end with an average of 54. That confidence, he says has been carried over from the India A tours.
“When you play for the India A and then return to play Ranji cricket, there is a marked change in your attitude. The challenges do not seem as daunting and you can notice the change in your attitude and body language. Playing with Rahul Sir has been a great learning curve and my recent form has come around due to his continued efforts and words of advice.”
Yet, his strong determination and his will to excel is something that is not new. Way back in 2016 when he switched sides from Hyderabad to Andhra Pradesh for better opportunities, the lack of many talents in his adopted team did give him sleepless nights. However, he regarded it as his responsibility to guide a team of youngsters and paved the way not only through his batting but also his leadership skills. In a game, Vihari dropped the wicket-keeper and kept wickets himself so Pragyan Ojha could get a chance to play in the match. Such commitment and sacrifice are what has defined his journey so far, and one can only hope that he achieves an international average that surpasses his First-class average of 59.45 in the coming years.