On Wednesday, 18-year-old Prithvi Shaw received a maiden call-up to the Indian squad for the final two Tests at Southampton and The Oval. Joining him on the flight to England will be another new face, Andhra batsman Hanuma Vihari, whose inclusion though comes slightly out of the blue.
Both have been among the runs for India A in the last two months, each scoring tons against South Africa A very recently. And the teenaged Mumbai opener is a direct replacement for Murali Vijay, who’s been dropped after a poor run of scores in the first two Tests that saw him lose his place for the third. Vihari, 24, though is learnt to have been picked more as a cover for captain Virat Kohli, who has had on-and-off issue with his back.
The selection committee, led by MSK Prasad, isn’t keen on taking a chance with Kohli’s fitness situation, even if he showed little signs of discomfort while scoring 97 and 103 at Trent Bridge. While they already have Karun Nair as a reserve batsman, the selectors felt it was prudent to have another back-up in the form of Vihari. Prasad & Co are also learnt to have consulted with India A coach Rahul Dravid before deciding to hand the two youngsters a promotion to the big league.
Vihari has been accommodated in place of chinaman bowler Kuldeep Yadav, who had an untoward outing at Lord’s after impressing in the limited-overs’ leg. It is understood that the call to sent back Yadav was based on two reasons. With the Indian seamers having bowled India to victory in Nottingham, not to forget that R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja are already a part of the group, the selectors didn’t feel the need to keep a third spinner in the mix with conditions at the Rose Bowl and The Oval not expected to overly assist spin. They felt Yadav would be better off playing for India A against Australia A in the four-day matches in Vizag.
Vihari spoke to this paper about being “pleasantly surprised” but revealed he has been uncharacteristically emotional soon after. “I’m not a very emotional person but I did feel a lot of them today. I immediately called my mother and informed her, because I owe a lot to her. It’s only because of the sacrifices she made after I lost my father at a young age that I am here,” Vihari said. She took over the family business, a ladies boutique in Hyderabad and continued to run it till last year, and backed her son to focus squarely on his cricket while letting his academics take a backseat.
Shaw’s rise has been well-documented, and he’s taken to first-class cricket in memorable fashion, having scored 7 centuries in 14 matches, including a couple on English soil. He showed no nerves during his IPL outings, where he took on the likes of Mitchell Johnson, and according to many experts looked ready to take the giant leap.
Vihari, who shifted base from Hyderabad to Andhra last year, had a stellar domestic season where he scored 1056 runs at 96 before a timely 148 against South Africa A in Bangalore. And one of his first calls after hearing about his Test selection was to coach Dravid. “He said, ‘You have great maturity and are ready to show it at the next level’. That filled me up with great confidence.” And it’s a confident Indian team, buoyed by a dramatic turnaround in the third Test, that Vihari and Shaw will be joining soon in England.