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England v India

Can this high-flying India team get even stronger by adding Hanuma Vihari?

Vihari England
Aadya Sharma by Aadya Sharma
@Aadya_Wisden 3 minute read

After a historic heist at Lord’s, India look a side in total control. But there may still be a way of strengthening their line-up – by including Hanuma Vihari. Aadya Sharma assesses the case.

“We don’t have any reason to change anything [in the XI] unless people have niggles…”

Ahead of the Leeds Test, Virat Kohli was rather clear in the pre-match press conference that a winning combination is best left undisturbed. While that may be a double bluff, any change to the winning XI from Lord’s is only likely to come via the bowling attack, with Ravichandran Ashwin probably in the frame for a last-minute spot. Why change the XI though? The openers looked solid, the quicks were in breathtaking form, and the entire team, led by an unwavering force of self-belief, combined to gain a crucial 1-0 series lead.

When a team is winning, it’s easy to look past what’s not working as well: Virat Kohli currently averages 20.66 in the series, Cheteshwar Pujara and Rishabh Pant have both failed to reach fifty, and the team have twice lost their top six with fewer than 150 runs in the board. With no Ashwin in the mix and the batting ending at Ravindra Jadeja, their is plenty of onus on the middle order to deliver – even after the tailenders went above and beyond at Lord’s.

India have been itching to get big runs from the famed trio of Pujara, Kohli and Rahane for a while now – in the second Test, Pujara and Rahane played a vital calming role in India’s second innings, valiantly fighting out for a stand of 297 deliveries to push India towards a sizeable lead which eventually set the tone for a win. The hesitation around them won’t go away quickly though: Pujara has now gone 11 innings without a fifty-plus score and Rahane’s battling 61 was only his second fifty in 16 innings.

The two senior statesmen did a job in a historic victory, but India still need more from them, such is the importance of their roles in this side. While looking past them will be a bold call, if the runs continue to dry up, India can call on an able middle-order option in Hanuma Vihari to bolster their ranks.

Vihari’s last Test innings was a brave, potentially career-defining, 161-ball 23* at Sydney in an incredible draw. He’s a batsman who averages 55 in first-class cricket, and has 21 centuries (including a 302*), carries with him the experience of a brief county stint for Warwickshire earlier this summer which means he’s spent months in the country gaining experience and an understanding of the climate and pitches. On India’s last Test tour of England in 2018, the then-debutant scored a solid 56 at The Oval, facing an attack featuring Anderson, Broad, Stokes and Curran. A technically proficient batsman, Vihari can infuse freshness into a top five primarily made up of long-serving batsmen, some of whom have possibly fallen into a rut amid the clamour for bigger scores.

As a bonus, Vihari also bowls off-spin, and could act as a part-time option for a side not able to fit in Ashwin due to issues of balance. It adds some variety to a line-up heavily reliant on their quicks, especially when the only spinner in the team – Jadeja – has gone wicketless in his last five Test innings. Even in the opposition, England have skipper Joe Root’s off-breaks if their frontline spinner needs support. If the conditions indicate assistance to spin for the last two days – who knows – a bold move could also be inducting him at the expense of a quick.

For Headingley at least, it seems likely that India won’t want to part ways with their established duo. Another set of failures, though, could really make the think-tank wonder if their batting reserves can be tapped into. And if there’s someone they can bank on to quickly adjust to that transition, it is Vihari. It could also be good exposure for someone who is likely to be a component of the middle order when the Test team next tours the country. Pujara and Rahane are the past and present of India’s Test team – one currently operating at the highest of levels – but a test of those next in line could also open up new possibilities for the team’s future.

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