Exclusive: The love and respect I have got now is incredible, says Hanuma Vihari
Hanuma Vihari opens up about his pain-defying heroics in Australia
When the jubilant Indian team was taking a victory lap in Brisbane after scripting one of the greatest underdog triumphs of all time, Hanuma Vihari could barely move, having suffered a hamstring injury in the previous Test. But the unassuming Vihari was looking at the happy faces of his teammates with an air of contentment on his own face.
After all, it was his pain-defying heroics that had given his teammates the freedom to breach ‘fortress Gabba’.
Battling pain has come naturally to Vihari, the 27-year-old batsman from Hyderabad whose brilliant 82 gave his team the winners’ trophy in a junior tournament, three days after losing his father at the age of 12.
The vagaries of life made Vihari a tough nut to crack from a tender age and the Australian team found that out at the Sydney Cricket Ground when he fought tooth and nail on one leg for four hours on the final day of the third Test, sharing an epic match-saving partnership with Ravichandran Ashwin, shielding the long Indian tail and an injured Ravindra Jadeja from the hostile bowling attack of the home team.
No wonder then that Vihari considers his unbeaten 23 off 161 balls as the greatest innings he has ever played in his life.
“Whatever runs I got, I got 23 or 25 or 10 or five, it doesn’t matter, but the fact I could bat for such a long period was more important. And I would say this was my best innings so far in international cricket, it will top my (Test) hundred (against the West Indies) as well, looking at the importance of the game,” Vihari told Khaleej Times over phone from Bangalore where he is now working on regaining his fitness.
Without his defiance, India would have lost the third Test and even the Gabba victory would have failed to seal the series for them.
“My mind was only thinking that it was an important game for India because the series was level at 1-1 and we had to draw the game to keep ourselves alive in the series. Like you said, if we had lost that match, we could have only drawn the series in Brisbane, no chance of winning it,” he said.
“So I was very determined and I kept the injury aside although it was hurting, but I kept it aside and I just focused on it, I was in the zone. I tried to be in that zone for that three-four hour period.”
Having scored only 49 runs going into the fourth innings of the third Test, was he also batting for his place in the team?
“No, I was only thinking about the situation I was in. I was not thinking too far ahead whether I would be dropped after the Test match if I don’t get runs or what will happen with my future,” said Vihari who would miss the first two matches of the four-match Test series against England at home.
“My only focus was, you know, on the situation when I went to bat and how I should go about the innings. Because of the injury I knew that runs were not that important, the importance was to bat out time.”
VVS Laxman, Vihari’s childhood idol, was famous for his ability to bat for long periods, bailing the team out of difficult situations myriad times. And John Manoj, who coached both the Hyderabad batsmen, believe Vihari has what it takes to follow in the footsteps of the legendary Laxman.
“It’s very nice. I have been very proud of the fact that they are comparing me to such a legend,” Vihari said.
“John Manoj Sir has seen me from a very young age, and he knows about my fighting qualities and how I fight for the team and obviously he must be very proud of my effort (in Australia).”
But no one was as proud of his Sydney effort as his mother, Vijaylakshi, who made great sacrifices after her husband’s death, even building a cricket pitch for Hanuma to practice at home.
“This (Sydney) gave her a different feeling because of the importance of the innings and the magnitude of the series itself,” Vihari said.
“It was so big and to play a major part in the series, she was very happy. She has worked very hard and to see me perform well in that Test match made her very happy.”
Vihari’s heart now swells with pride as his efforts inspired India to go on and beat Australia in the next Test at Gabba where Australia had not lost since 1988.
“It was a hard-fought Test match (in Sydney). Again if you see the fourth Test (in Brisbane), it was very competitive. We fought really hard to come back from 36 all out (in the first Test) to win the series 2-1. It was an incredible result,” he said.
And for Vihari, it was also incredible to see his partner Ashwin give Tim Paine a befitting reply when the Australian captain engaged the Indian off-spinner in a verbal duel, in an attempt to unsettle him during that series-defining partnership in Sydney.
“Obviously, we knew they would come hard at us and we expected that because they were on top and they had to go for the win,” he said.
“So I was trying to ignore whatever they said, but Ash, once in a while, he gave it back to them, which was nice!”
Finally, Vihari said he would forever cherish the memory of seeing the happy faces in the dressing room after keeping the team’s fortunes alive in Sydney.
“They were very happy and the love and respect that I have got not only in the dressing room, but from all over India, and from people watching all over the world, it was incredible,” he said.
“This is what you play for, the respect you get when you play a good innings for your country. It’s a privilege. Not everyone would get that opportunity. I am very privileged to do that.”
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