Not many batsmen in present-day cricket can boast of a first-class average of 59.79. For Hanuma Vihari then, the score of 56 in his only Test innings – the first innings of the ongoing fifth and final Test against England at The Oval – seems rather apt.
That average won’t always stay where it is right now, and he might well have been dismissed for very little in his first outing had Stuart Broad called for a review after hitting Vihari’s pads early on in his innings.
It was nerves, Vihari admitted. “Initially, I felt the pressure going in – cloudy conditions and Stuart Broad and [James] Anderson bowling at you. Once I got myself in, it eased my nerves,” he said.
England had scored 332 in their first innings, and when Vihari walked in at No.6, India were 103-4. Not ideal, but Virat Kohli, his captain and the standout batsman of the series, was at the other end, and that made a difference.
“I wasn’t good with my decision making (early on, because of the nervousness), but having Virat at the other end made my job a little easier. His inputs helped me,” said Vihari.
“He’s been playing very confidently throughout the series and his confidence boosted me at the other end. I will give a lot of credit to him for helping me out.”
That help got Vihari to settle in and hit his maiden Test half-century – the second-highest individual score in the innings behind Ravindra Jadeja’s 86* from No.8. The two put on 77 for the seventh wicket too.
For Vihari, not yet 25 and with the experience of 63 first-class matches and over 5000 runs in the game, it was a short chat with Rahul Dravid before the start of the Test that got him ready. Dravid has been the coach of the India Under-19s and the ‘A’ team for a while, and with Vihari a regular part of the ‘A’ side, there is a strong connection.
“I called (Dravid) the day before I made my debut. He spoke to me for a couple of minutes and gave his inputs and it eased my nerves a little bit because when it’s coming from a legend, you know that you belong here,” said Vihari, whose last outing before the Test match was for India A against South Africa A in August, where he scored 148 and a duck in a drawn match in Bangalore.
“He just told me that you have the skill set, you have the mindset and the temperament, just go out there and enjoy yourself,” Vihari elaborated. “I would like to give him a lot of credit for that because my journey with India A was very important for me to come here, because not only that I performed there, but the way he gave us inputs, that made me a better player.”
People who have seen him play in the Indian domestic circuit talk about Vihari’s calm and composure, and the penchant for playing long innings – he has 15 first-class centuries including a best of 302*. No surprise then that after the good start, Vihari is looking at the long haul.
“It’s just the start. I know I have to do a lot of things to cement my place in the Indian team, which I definitely want to do. Getting a half-century on debut is just the start,” he said.
How he goes in the Indian second innings, with England likely to set a target of around 300, will go a long way in giving him, and the team management, and idea of where he stands.