Hanuma Vihari focused on ‘returning to the Test team’ but keeps expectations low

Andhra have won three of their five Ranji Trophy games outright so far, and are second in the Elite Group B at this stage, behind Mumbai. Hanuma Vihari has contributed well in that run, scoring 365 runs in seven innings, behind only new captain Ricky Bhui’s 550 for the team. That’s helped his first-class average stay above 50 (52.68), but the chances of adding to his 16 Test appearances don’t look too bright.
“I do feel sad and disappointed that I am not in the Test team, but everyone goes through ups and downs, and my job now is to score runs in the Ranji Trophy,” Vihari told ESPNcricinfo after Andhra beat Bihar in Patna for their third win on the trot. “The season has gone all right, both for the team and for me. So the ambition is to score a lot of runs and try to return to the Test team.”
Vihari might not be on the selectors’ radar, though. He says that since his last Test appearance, back at Edgbaston in July 2022 where he batted at No. 3 and scored 20 and 11 in a seven-wicket defeat, he hasn’t had many conversations with the people who matter in the Indian team – the management or the selectors. Except one conversation with head coach Rahul Dravid.

“No-one has spoken to me recently, but Rahul Dravid did speak to me after my last Test, and he told me what I can improve on, but no, I haven’t been in touch with anyone since then,” Vihari said. “But I only think about improving my game and enjoying it. If I don’t do that, there is no purpose left. When I go into the middle, I just want to do my best for the team and score runs.

“I am at a stage [in my career] where I have no expectations. I give my best each time I bat and then whatever happens will happen.”

“He chose a different route and is doing well, and I am happy for him. I am sure he will be doubly motivated when he plays against India, because after a brilliant Under-19 World Cup, he couldn’t make it at the senior level in India”

Hanuma Vihari on his Under-19 World Cup (2012) captain Unmukt Chand

A year-and-a-half before that Edgbaston Test, in January 2021, Vihari had scored perhaps the most celebrated 23 not-outs in Indian Test history, and played his part in securing one of the most famous draws in the game. With India set 407 for a win by Australia in Sydney, India were 272 for 5 in 88.2 overs before Vihari and R Ashwin collaborated for 62 runs in 42.4 overs. Vihari had scored his 23 in 161 balls in just under four hours, while Ashwin scored 39 not out in 128 balls, in just over two hours. The draw meant the teams went to the final Test, in Brisbane, on level terms, before India pulled off a magical win to take the series. Neither Vihari nor Ashwin played that last Test, because at the SCG, both of them were carrying injuries, making their fight against Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins and Nathan Lyon all the more remarkable.
“I have very wonderful memories of the Sydney Test. It was one-all. If we had lost that Test in Sydney, we would have lost our chance of winning the series,” Vihari recalled. “So Ashwin and I – we were both carrying injuries, so we couldn’t run much – decided to take it ball-by-ball, over-by-over, and see where we end up. We ended up playing one-and-a-half sessions and it was a memorable result. Then we went to Gabba and won the series, but the Sydney Test will always be a special one for me.”

He is far away from international cricket now, and at 30, the road back can’t be easy. But one of his old mates, who has never played international cricket, has had a drastically different career graph from Vihari and suddenly has a shot at international cricket now.

Unmukt Chand, India’s captain when they won the Under-19 World Cup in 2012, never made the cut at the highest level. Vihari, Chand’s team-mate, did. But Chand, after a struggle at home, moved to the USA and could well play the 2024 T20 World Cup, which will be held in the USA and the Caribbean. He might play against India, too.

“We don’t talk much, because after the Under-19 World Cup, we moved quickly to the senior level, and his career graph was different from mine, and he is now in the USA,” Vihari said. “He chose a different route and is doing well, and I am happy for him. I am sure he will be doubly motivated when he plays against India, because after a brilliant Under-19 World Cup, he couldn’t make it at the senior level in India. So definitely he will be motivated. Yeah, we don’t talk, but I wish him all the best.”

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