Hanuma Vihari was distraught after flicking a ball from Mitchell Starc onto his pad and then watching it loop nearly 15 meters straight to square leg. It was the second innings in Perth and Vihari’s dismissal triggered a massive collapse. The dismissal was a little bit unlucky. This was a player that looked so composed in both innings of the Test match, but could only manage 48 runs in both outings combined.
On the third morning, Vihari was at the non-strikers end when his skipper Virat Kohli inside edged two deliveries onto his thigh pad and have them balloon short of the square leg-fielder. Cricket is a game of fine margins and it is about making your own luck. Kohli had made his own luck by fighting a way to survive over 100 balls before the fortune turned his way.
But Vihari should have deserved more fortune. He definitely didn't look out of place after striding out to the middle on the fifth ball of the third morning in the first innings. He was composed and his footwork was sharp. The pace of Starc or the spin of Lyon didn't faze him as he got behind the line and negotiated both the Australian bowlers comfortably. In his 46-ball vigil, he was beaten only once, a good effort considering he faced the second new ball. Even in the second innings, he faced 75 balls and apart from a couple of play and misses, he was sound defensively. As he trudged back on the fifth morning, Vihari must have felt if he had upset the cricketing gods. In the field, he had watched Usman Khawaja and Travis Head been beaten nearly 30 times between them, but here he was, getting caught at square-leg off the thick inside edge of an innocuous delivery.
Vihari's scores of 28 and 20 might not look impressive on the scorecard, but in both innings, he looked like he belonged in the Test cricket arena, the glimpses of which were witnessed when he scored a well-composed half-century on Test debut at the Oval. Heading into the third Test, he is likely to be nervous and anxious about his place in the playing XI. The arrival of Hardik Pandya and a positive fitness report of Rohit Sharma could well pip him out of the final XI on Boxing day. It shouldn't happen, but such is the eccentric thinking of the current team management that if he is omitted, it won't surprise any of us.
After all, Vihari was the incumbent No 6 before the first Test but was left out for Rohit Sharma, this despite Vihari outscoring Rohit in the tour match and given that in his previous Test match, he had scored a fifty. Other players in the team have been given extended ropes, but as of now, there is no guarantee that Vihari will be a certain starter in Melbourne.
Early reports are that the pitch for the Boxing Day Test will be most batting friendly surface of the series, meaning the ‘five bowlers' strategy is bound to be creep into Kohli's head. Plus the return of the prodigal son, Pandya, is certain to keep Vihari nervous.
It will be unfair to drop a player that had clarity in his mind and showed his technique was cut-out to negotiate the best of the bowlers. Vihari was one batsman that looked largely untroubled by Nathan Lyon in Perth. The elegant right-hander used his feet and his tall reach to smother Lyon and also played a series of sweeps to keep the Australian spinner guessing. Apart from the ball that kissed his edge, Vihari was untroubled and the way he overcame the short ball on the quick pitch must have left the team management satisfied.
But perhaps the best part about Vihari is that he knows his game inside out and understands what the opposition is trying to dish out at him. When the Australian bowlers pushed him back with a barrage of short balls and then asked him to drive a full ball, his head position and transfer of weight were perfect as he drove down the ground with confidence. In both the innings, his dismissal came as a surprise because he looked so composed.
Common sense will suggest that Vihari should be not be axed, but the selection has not been Kohli's forte. The captain had the best view of his young batsmen for over an hour in the first innings and he should understand that even if Rohit Sharma is fit, Vihari warrants a spot in the team.
If Ashwin is still injured, then Vihari's off-spinners too might come in handy. He did build some pressure in the Perth Test, varying his pace nicely. If KL Rahul can have such a long rope then it will be totally unfair to drop Vihari, at worst if Pandya needs to be accommodated then Vihari could be the scapegoat and asked to open the innings, but in all fairness, he should not be kept out of the playing XI in Melbourne. If Vihari can bat in the same manner as he did in Perth, his luck is bound to change.