Vihari keen to demonstrate limited-overs credentials in IPL 2019
Hanuma Vihari was in sublime touch for India A against England Lions in January this year. (Image credit: Kerala Cricket Association)

Carefully examine Hanuma Vihari bat. What do you observe? Is he a cricketer tailor-made for T20 cricket? Probably not. Can he be a destroyer of bowling attacks? Unlikely. But does he have the technique to play all three formats? Definitely.

It is this very technique of Vihari that earned him a Test fifty on his debut against England at The Oval. Heck, it’s the same tight and reliable technique which thrusted the youngster to open the innings in Australia last December in only his third Test.

And does anyone remember how that turned out? No? Let us clue you in. Having played 104 First-Class games, and opened just three times, Vihari made eight off 66 balls in an opening stand of 40 with Mayank Agarwal in 18.5 overs – the longest any India opening pair batted in SENA (South Africa, England, New Zealand, Australia) countries since July 2011. But don’t let his low score deceive you, for Vihari blunted the new ball operated by Australia’s fabled pace bowling trio of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins, and for once, offered respite to India’s middle order.

Vihari the batsman seems to have been cut from the same cloth as a Rahul Dravid, an Alastair Cook, or a Cheteshwar Pujara. His head is still, eyes are on the ball, and elbow straight. It is almost unfair to see him play T20 cricket, let alone take up the role of a finisher, a prospect Vihari faces as he gears up to play for the Delhi Capitals in IPL 2019.

“There’s no such preference but ideally, I’d like to bat at the top of the order. That’s where you get most of the time to bat,” Vihari told CricketCountry in Delhi over the weekend. “But if the management decides to make me bat a little lower, I don’t have any problems because I will learn to adapt to the situation. You just have to read the situation and play accordingly. For me, even if I get bat down the order, I’ll happily take up the finisher role and try to express myself in the best possible way.”

Hanuma Vihari scored a half-century in his debut Test at The Oval. (AFP Image)

Vihari is expected to play a big role in ending Capital’s barren run in the IPL, particularly now that he’s played at the highest level for India. The Delhi-based franchise, into their 12th season of the IPL, have done everything to change their dragging fortunes over the years including renaming the brand entirely this year. And yet, Vihari believes the balanced composition of the squad is what may bring about the turnaround for Capitals.

“I feel we’ve got a much more balance side this year than any other previous season. We’ve got a good mixture and Indian and foreign players. Players like Morris, Rabada and Lamichhane are matchwinners. So, it’s all about playing together. It’s important how we gel together. Shikhar coming back for us is a great addition because he brings a lot of experience. If Shikhar and Prithvi can have a good partnership at the top, it will give the middle order a lot more freedom to express itself,” Vihari said.

“When you’re down, only way you can go is up. Delhi have not performed as per the expectations. That’s always been the case. Even last year, we had a good team on paper but the results didn’t come our way. This year, we have an exciting, a young side which can win against any opposition. But again, consistency is very important. (READ: After three-year wait, Vihari aims to maximise IPL opportunity)

“We’ll look to win games back-to-back. That is how we can get to the Playoffs. How we start is also very important. Come March 24 in Mumbai, against a good team, if we can begin well, it could set the ball rolling for us. At the same time, if we put too much pressure on ourselves, it will lead us nowhere.”

Vihari, 25, has just played two seasons of IPL – 2013 and 2015, and while his numbers may not be staggering by any stretch of imagination (280 runs from 22 matches), the coming holds the tremendous potential for the 25-year-old Andhra batsman.

Vihari batted 66 balls to score 8 runs but ensured India did not lose a wicket early in Melbourne against Australia. (AFP Image)

“When I played the IPL before, I didn’t have, you can say the strength/exposure to clear the boundary. But now I feel I have it. Whenever I want to, I can clear the boundaries, even if I play the conventional shots,” Vihari said. “Players like Williamson and Virat play proper shots but still are able to perform in the IPL. So, I look up to them; the way they play. I just have to plan my innings accordingly. Now I feel I have more experience. This year is going to be crucial for me. There are going to be expectations, especially from the franchise, because now I’ve played at the international level.

“Previous two years, I was playing for my home franchise, Sunrisers Hyderabad, and this year I’ve come to Delhi. Having played international cricket, I have the experience and I feel now I can take my game to the next level. The IPL will be a good platform to showcase that.”

The general consensus might dismiss Vihari from being prepared to playing limited-overs cricket, but a cursory glance across his numbers for India A promises to banish such a notion. In three List-A matches against England Lions in Thiruvananthapuram last year, Vihari scored 124 runs, including 92 in a match wherein he also picked up a wicket.

“Technically, I won’t be making any changes because I feel if you have a good technique then you can perform in all three formats. It’s only the mindset I would like to change. If I can adapt my mind according to the format I play, I would be successful. It’s just an assumption people have that I’m a Test player. I can only prove them otherwise with my performances and I’m really looking forward to this IPL where I can showcase my skills playing the white ball,” he said.

Perhaps the same assumption has left Vihari not in contention for a place in India’s World Cup squad. He is yet to play a limited-overs international for India, and sure enough, might not even start as a probable. But with India still sweating over the No. 4 spot, Vihari believes he fits the bill.

“Why not? I’ve got the technique and I think I showed that in the Test matches. You need someone at No. 4 who’s got a good technique, who can adapt to the situation and I think I can do both,” Vihari said. “That’s one thing you dream about, the World Cup, when you’re young. But for now, the challenge is to perform in this IPL first. If I can do that, I’ve done my job. In the last couple of years, if you’ve followed my India A scores, I’ve done well in the one-dayers there. So, it’s not that I have to again prove what I’m capable of in limited-overs.”