Updated: January 22, 2021 8:36:59 am
Just over a week after his epic rearguard in Sydney that helped India eke out a draw against Australia, Hanuma Vihari had to watch his teammates script a memorable series win at the Gabba, in Brisbane, from the confines of his living room in Hyderabad. The 26-year-old middle-order batsman, who is currently recovering from a hamstring injury, on the Adelaide debacle, and how the draw in Sydney proved to be the genesis of India’s greatest series win.
How was it like watching your teammates pull off an improbable win at Gabba on television?
It’s surreal, actually. Hard to put it in words. It’s the greatest series win for India, because of the circumstances. Playing against a quality team, the injuries, and bouncing back from 36/9 in Adelaide.
Did you miss being part of the celebrations in Brisbane?
Yes. It would have been nice if I was part of the team when they undertook that victory lap at the Gabba. But then, I got injured and couldn’t do much about it. But certain things are not in my control.
What’s the status of the hamstring injury?
I arrived at the National Cricket Academy (NCA) in Bengaluru yesterday and will be meeting the doctor tomorrow. Only then will I get a clear picture of my injury.
What was said in the dressing-room after the Adelaide debacle?
Nothing much, actually. I don’t think we even had a meeting after the game. We had a team-activity dinner later than evening, and that’s about it. I think the team management took a conscious call to not mention 36/9. The good thing was that we really bonded well and that helped us take our mind off cricket for a couple of days. In the lead-up to the Melbourne Test, Ravi bhai (Ravi Shastri), our head coach, told us that what happened in Adelaide was a one-off thing, and it would never happen again on the cricket field. ‘Let’s forget about it and treat this as a three-match series’. Before his departure, Virat Kohli just asked us to believe in ourselves and in our game. Looking back, that loss in Adelaide was a blessing as it brought us closer as a team.
Could you talk a bit about Day 5, Sydney?
Going into Sydney on Day 5, nobody really gave us a chance. We needed to chase in excess of 400, and there were only two possibilities: a draw or an Australia win. But the way Pujji (Cheteshwar Pujara) and Rishabh (Pant) were batting, it gave us hope. But they got dismissed in quick succession, and then I got injured, Jadeja was not fit to bat and Ashwin also had a dodgy back. It changed the equation and we had only one option left, which was to stone-wall our way to a draw. Both Ashwin and I wanted to draw the game badly because the series was locked 1-1, and if either one of us was dismissed, it would have exposed our lower order. We knew we had to bat for three hours.
What was the rationale of promoting Pant ahead of you on Day 5 in Sydney?
We were really not thinking of a win, to be honest. In Test cricket, you can’t really predict whether you can press for the target. Instead, you have to take it session by session. The move to promote Pant at No.5, ahead of me, was to have a right and left-hand combination going, and upset the rhythm of the Australian bowlers. But if Rishabh gets going, we knew that we have a good chance.
What did you tell Pujara when you pulled a hamstring?
It affected my mobility. The physio (Nitin Patel) came out. Under the normal circumstances, I would have walked off to the pavilion retired hurt. But that would have exposed the rest of our batsmen. Ravichandran Ashwin had a dodgy back and Ravindra Jadeja was not fit to bat. So that was not an option. Pujji told me, ‘lets hang around for a bit. The tea interval is just 20 minutes away, and then we will take it from there.’ Unfortunately, he got out in the next over.
What was the plan when Ashwin joined?
When Ash (Ashwin) joined me at the crease, the only thing we talked about was to survive the next three hours. Initially, we didn’t have any plan in particular. But Ashwin was playing Nathan Lyon really comfortably, and I couldn’t stretch forward to play him because my hamstring was hurting. So, we decided that Ashwin would play out Lyon, while I would face the fast bowlers because I didn’t have to come forward to them as they (Australian pacers) were banging it short of a length.
You survived a reprieve when Tim Paine dropped you off Mitchell Starc’s bowling?
It was a momentary lapse in concentration. After dead-batting for so many overs, fatigue had crept in. I remember, we still had another 8 overs, and none of us could really afford to throw away our wickets. At the other end, Ashwin began to get animated. We had realised that we were getting really close to achieving something special. He began to chat from the non-striker’s end in Tamil. “Pathu pathu ball ah aadalaam” (Let’s take it 10 balls at a time).
For the better part of the innings, you refused to take singles. However, towards the end, you guys went for a double. What happened there?
It was not planned, actually. More than anything, it was just an act of impulse. Ash called me for a single, but then we realised that there was a double there and we went for it, even though I was hobbling.
After the tea interval, Paine began sledging Ashwin? Did he or any of the other Australians sledge you as well?
No. I don’t really remember them saying anything to me. Paine got into a bit of a banter with Ashwin. After the tea interval, Australians thought that they could just roll us over. They thought it was just a matter of one wicket, and our three fast bowlers would get exposed. They began to get frustrated and I guess the sledging stemmed from their frustrations.
What was your reaction when the match ended in a draw?
I didn’t feel anything to be honest. Both of us were really exhausted and had even gone numb after stonewalling for so long. Later than evening when Ravi bhai singled me out and said: “Hats off to the resilience and grit that you showed,’ and Rahane also said that my innings in Sydney was much better than my century in West Indies. That’s when the enormity of the situation sunk in.
Was that the toughest spell of cricket that you’ve played in your career so far?
Absolutely. If I have to sum up my career in a nutshell, Day 5 in Sydney would be the perfect example. That’s what defines me. It’s been all about this grit and determination from my family who helped me reach where I am today.
Looking back, how important was that draw in Sydney in the context of this series?
It was a tremendous result. The draw in Sydney was the genesis of the Brisbane win. Sydney instilled confidence and belief in us. It spurred us to remain positive and press for a win on Day 5 at the Gabba. If we had lost in Sydney, the momentum would have shifted, and we would have lost in Brisbane as well.
How was the reaction amongst fans in Australia after your splendid rearguard in Sydney?
I remember when I was waiting at the Brisbane airport to catch the flight back to India, some Indian fans came up and shook hands with me. They also congratulated me for my performance in Sydney. It felt nice to be recognised by fans in Australia.
You failed to get going in Australia despite being in reasonably good nick in the run-up to the Test series. What happened?
You’re correct. I was in good batting form and had even scored a century in a warm-up game. I guess it just boiled down to my faulty shot selection. It had nothing to do with my technique. I just made the wrong choices at the wrong time. However, I think I have made up for it with that innings on Day 5 in Sydney.
There were some who were critical of your batting approach in Sydney. I am referring to a tweet from Babul Supriyo, the BJP MP from Asansol.
Everyone loves and has an opinion about cricket. That’s fine. But it shouldn’t get personal. But I don’t mind such comments, and don’t take it to heart. I generally don’t respond to them. I decided to reply to that tweet (Babul Supriyo) because I wanted him to get my name correct.
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