Seated on the couch at her Bowenpally residence in Secunderabad, Vijayalaxmi is groggy. It’s close to midnight on Saturday, well past her bedtime. But the 53-year-old makes sure that she is wide awake and glued to the television set. Far away at Sabina Park in Kingston, her son Hanuma Vihari is approaching his maiden Test century. He had come close in the previous Test in Antigua, before falling short by seven runs. Vijayalaxmi would take the blame for his son’s misfortune then. “During the first Test (in Antigua), I couldn’t stay up all night to watch him bat, which is why he couldn’t score the century,” she says. This time, Vijayalaxmi was taking no chances.
On Saturday, when Vihari nudged Kemar Roach to mid-wicket, it was the most important single he had ever taken. That run brought up his first Test century, a moment of pure, unbridled joy for the 25-year-old, in his sixth Test.
Vijayalaxmi was overwhelmed with emotion. This was the moment she had been waiting for ever since she and her husband, G. Satyanarayana decided to let their son follow his dream of becoming a cricketer. However, not having the husband by her side made that moment a bit heart-wrenching.
Unsurprisingly, her son would dedicate this knock to his late father. “My father passed away when I was 12 so ever since, I have decided that when I play international cricket, I want to dedicate my first century to him,” Vihari would say after scoring 111. “Today is an emotional day and I hope that he is proud wherever he is and I’m really happy that I have managed to achieve that.”
As Vijayalaxmi watched Vihari score his maiden Test century, memories of her five-year-old son rattling names of cricketers from the Caribbean would flood her mind. “He was barely five, but even then, he knew the names of all the cricketers from West Indies. Lara, Chanderpaul, Ambrose, Walsh, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Franklyn Rose, Dillon… he would keep taking their names,” she reminiscences. It’s only fitting that he notched up a century against this team two decades later.
Vihari spent his early childhood in Manuguru, a mofussil town on the banks of the Godavari river known for its collieries. His father, an engineer by profession, was employed with the Singareni coalfields. The Singareni staff quarters were home for Hanuma and his elder sister Vyshnavi. Interest in cricket was ignited in Vihari by his uncle R. Prasad, a software professional based in Hyderabad, and his mother Vijayalaxmi. The two would devour all the matches aired on television and even the bulk of the discussion at the dinner table would centre on VVS Laxman’s exploits against Australia and how Rahul Dravid kept finding ways to score runs in England.
On his uncle’s insistence, Satyanarayana decided to let his wife and children move to Hyderabad so that his son could pursue a career in cricket. Vihari was barely eight when Prasad got his nephew enrolled at St John’s academy in East Marredpally, Secunderabad. Under the tutelage of R. Sridhar, his cricketing career began to take shape.
“It was my father’s decision to get us shifted to Hyderabad so that my brother could pursue cricket. All this while, my father decided to stay back at Manuguru. Looking back, my father made a lot of sacrifices to see his son become a cricketer, and my brother acknowledges this fact,” says Vyshnavi.
Cricket would consume the bulk of Vihari’s time, which meant that after graduating from St. Andrew’s High School in Secunderabad, he didn’t give much thought to college or higher studies. “He kept graduating on the cricketing field though, representing the school at U-13 level, and then Hyderabad till the U-19 levels. Two years ago, he shifted to the Andhra team in Ranji Trophy,” his sister informs.
A prolific scorer
As Vihari continued to amass runs on the domestic circuit, the success didn’t alter his personality. He would still remain calm and level-headed with the steely resolve to play for India. This is something Jim Crapnell, the head coach of Hutton Cricket Club would attest to. He had watched India’s No.6 batsman from close quarters for two seasons — in 2014 and 2015 — when Vihari joined them to play club cricket in England.
“He stayed in my house for a while and would do his thing quietly without creating a problem for anyone. He was friendly to youngsters and was a determined lad who would practice for hours,” was his assessment. Even then, there was one particular trait that got Crapnell’s attention.
“Initially, I found him calling his mother often. At first, I thought it was a case of a young kid who was homesick. By the end of his stint here, I realised that it was more about him taking care of her. His was a very close-knit family,” he adds. When Vihari was selected for the Indian squad for the England tour, Crapnell would tweet: “My finest piece of recruitment to date.”
Vyshnavi calls her brother an innocent boy consumed by cricket. This is why his over-the-top celebrations after reaching the century on Saturday came as a surprise to her. “He is not the sort of a guy who would show a lot of emotion. But this was his first Test century,” she quips.
Back home, Vijayalaxmi’s phone has been buzzing incessantly. In the midst of attending to calls from relatives and well-wishers, she only wishes she had her husband by her side in their moment of pride.