Representing the country is the best you can do in any sport and I am super thrilled, says Hanuma Vihari.
Hyderabad: Gade Hanuma Vihari is the latest from Hyderabad to make the Indian cricket team. On Wednesday night he was picked for the fourth and fifth Tests of the ongoing series in England. Excited, he gushed: “As a young boy I always wanted to play for India one day, I can’t believe that day has come!”
“It’s a dream come true. I have been working so hard for it. Getting into that Virat Kohli-led team — which is one of the best India has produced — is surreal. I don’t know how to express my joy. Representing the country is the best you can do in any sport and I am super thrilled,” Vihari told this newspaper.
The 24-year-old is confident of delivering in England. “Having played there before, in fact I was there recently with the India ‘A’ team, I have the experience to cope with English conditions. I will also try to get as many inputs as I can from the coaches and senior players and continue to give my 100 per cent,” he said.
The confidence stems from his first-class average of 59.45 which is currently the world’s best. Australia’s Steven Smith follows with 57.27 while Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara are in the 54s. Last season, Vihari was the leading scorer for Andhra with 752 runs in six matches that included an unbeaten 302. His latest knock was a thundering 148 against South Africa ‘A’ in Alur near Bengaluru that forced open doors to the senior side.
Ever since he took junior cricket in Hyderabad by storm, Vihari has been talked about as the next V.V.S. Laxman. Was that added pressure? “When you are rated so high, there is so much pressure to handle but I was only thinking of working hard and performing to the best of my ability. The runs just followed,” he says.
Vihari started playing cricket when he was 11, at the St John’s Sports Coaching Foundation in Secunderabad. Former Hyderabad cricketer Nagesh Hammond had recommended Vihari to coach John Manoj. “The day he joined our academy I knew he had it in him — he was timing the ball so well.0 John recalls.
“A sincere, committed and ambitious player, Vihari was always hungry for runs, and got them by the hundreds,” John added. “A day after his father passed away (Vihari was just 12 then) he smashed an unbeaten 82 and won the schools trophy for St Andrews, which provided for his education.”
From schools, he grew too fast. A flurry of runs meant he raced through the Hyderabad Under 16, U-19, U-22 age groups and into the Ranji Trophy side, when he was only 17. Soon, he got the big one — a near double century (191) against Mumbai that got him national recognition. That put him into the India U-19 and subsequently the India ‘A’ sides, just a step away from the senior team.
“I never knew where I would have been had it not been for those scores.”
For the last two years, Vihari has been playing for the Andhra Cricket Association, where he pushed the envelope. “I challenged myself to play for India and decided to move out of my comfort zone. The effort has paid off,” he smiles.