Hanuma Vihari interview: I went blank while batting on debut, but Virat Kohli's words helped me negotiate James Anderson, Stuart Broad

In a freewheeling chat with Firstpost, Hanuma Vihari talks about his early struggles, his journey to the national team and making a half-century despite going blank on his debut

Shubham Pandey, September 15, 2018

India are 103 for four. A critical situation, as they are still in a deficit of 229 runs. In walks a debutant to face the in-form pair of James Anderson and Stuart Broad with the Duke's ball in their hands.

Hanuma Vihari has lived this moment. While getting his Test cap on the eve of India's fifth and final Test against England, he kept his emotions in check to make sure he focussed on what was to come and while he could not have not imagined the exact scenario in which he would have to go out to bat, his focus helped him pass the initial nervous phase of Test cricket pass with flying colours.

"I had a wonderful experience getting my Test cap from Virat Kohli. I knew I had to focus on the bigger picture — which was the match at that point — and not get overawed by the moment. That is why I kept my emotions in check as I took my Test cap," Hanuma told Firstpost after landing in India from England.

India's Hanuma Vihari acknowledges the applause after reaching his fifty during play on the third day of the fifth Test cricket match between England and India at The Oval in London on September 9, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Adrian DENNIS / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE. NO ASSOCIATION WITH DIRECT COMPETITOR OF SPONSOR, PARTNER, OR SUPPLIER OF THE ECB

Hanuma Vihari acknowledges the applause after reaching his fifty during play on the third day of the fifth Test. AFP

It was coach Ravi Shastri who told Hanuma about his debut a few days prior to the fifth Test and while the most memorable moment of his cricketing career has just gone by, making it to the national team was in no way easy for the 24-year-old from Andhra Pradesh.

The journey's been as long as it has been arduous. While his love affair with the game began at the age of nine, it has taken him eight years to guarantee himself a place in the national team. Revisiting the time he first fell in love with the sport, Hanuma said: "No one has played cricket in my family. But I developed an interest in the game as everyone in the family used to watch matches on TV. That's how it started. At a very young age, I knew I only wanted to play cricket.

"I started off at the age of nine in Hyderabad. By the time I was 12, I started playing state cricket for Hyderabad. Then I made my Ranji Trophy debut for Hyderabad when I was 16. I played there for six years before moving to Andhra Pradesh, where I have been playing for the last few years. When I was playing age-group cricket, I was struggling to get big runs, but gradually as I played more and more, I started getting big runs and got the pace," added Hanuma.

Getting runs was easy. Getting them consistently over a period of time, was proving to be a more formidable task. Hanuma realised it very early that recognition would not come too easily, especially because he came from a small town. He had to score runs in abundance, match after match, season by season, year by year, to make heads turn.

Getting recognition, he said, was the biggest challenge in his short cricketing career thus far. He said, "It is recognition for which you have to fight for when you hail from a smaller town. You don't get much recognition at the Ranji Trophy level.

"People tend to know your performances, but you have to be relentless in the way you perform. You should not get disappointed. It is very easy to get disappointed and not focus on the game.

"It happened with me at whatever level I was playing. And I just wanted to perform for my team. That is the only motive I had. I wanted to continue doing that for as much time as possible so it took me eight years at the Ranji circle to get recognised," he added.

The number of hours put in the cricket nets, the runs scored in domestic cricket, the days spent waiting for the national call-up, helped him build his patience. Instead of making him impatient, the wait fuelled his desire to work hard. And when that moment actually arrived, as Stuart Broad ran in to have a go at him on the very first ball of his international career, Hanuma did not know what to do. It was like trying to conquer Mount Everest, but watching your feet and hands go numb inches away from the summit.

"I was blank at that moment. It felt like a different world altogether — going out there to face James Anderson and Stuart Broad. I have been watching them on TV from a young age. And then to be suddenly facing them felt surreal."

It was indeed tough. But Hanuma had the presence of a certain Kohli at the other end to calm his nerves down. Some motivational words totalled with some cues helped Hanuma for sure. However, the battle was to be fought by him alone against the two top-class pacers in Test cricket.

India's Hanuma Vihari runs for the ball on the first day of the fifth Test cricket match between England and India at The Oval in London on September 7, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Adrian DENNIS / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE. NO ASSOCIATION WITH DIRECT COMPETITOR OF SPONSOR, PARTNER, OR SUPPLIER OF THE ECB

India's Hanuma Vihari runs for the ball on the first day of the fifth Test cricket match between England and India at The Oval in London on September 7, 2018.

"It was difficult in the initial period. Kohli helped me a bit from the other end. He gave me few cues which helped me initially. He told me that this is the hardest conditions you will get in international cricket. Nothing comes close to this. If you go through this spell by Anderson and Broad, it will be a good experience in your first Test innings. The words gave me a lot of confidence."

After a few hiccups, he began playing his shots, and that lifted the weight off his shoulders to those of the bowlers. Managing a 56-run knock is not a bad achievement in your first Test innings. But the learning that has come from it, matters the most to him.

He said, "The intensity of the game is very different than what you play at India A or Ranji Trophy level. The importance of each ball is much more at the international level than at any other level. I am well prepared for my next tour as I know what needs to be done to match that intensity. It will give me a better chance of performing."

Not to forget the three wickets he took in the second innings as well. While Hanuma is arguably not among the best spinners in the country, there is no doubt in his mind that he can become one.

"I want to improve as a bowler. If you have a batsman in top six who can bowl, it makes a huge difference for a team. I have started bowling a lot now. And will look to focus more and more on it. This can help the team as well as me in the long run," said Hanuma.

While there might still be some chinks in his batting, especially against swinging deliveries outside the off stump, there are qualities which make him an ideal pick for the upcoming Test series against West Indies and the tour to Australia later this year: his demeanour and his ability to read situations during a match. The latter was also a quality which stood out for India A coach Rahul Dravid who had told Hanuma, "You are mature enough to understand game situation. You have a good temperament."

One hopes this fuels his focus and patience for years to come.

Updated Date: Sep 15, 2018







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