Hanuma Vihari is in a rush. He has a flight to catch, and in three days, the 24-year-old will be at the Airforce Sports Complex in his Andhra jersey to take on Delhi in the knockouts of the Vijay Hazare Trophy. “I’m looking forward to it,” he says, exuding confidence that emanates from the string of consistent scores he has churned out in this tournament.
His 347 runs puts him sixth in the list of the top run-scorers. This has been instrumental is his team’s irrepressible run, where they have won six games on the trot. Like Vihari, this tournament is littered with dazzling performances from other young middle-order batsmen such as Mumbai’s Suryakumar Yadav and Baroda’s Deepak Hooda, who have played stellar roles in their team’s entry into the knockouts. For long, there have been debates about the relevance of tournaments such as the Vijay Hazare Trophy.
However, the glaring hole in India’s middle-order offers a life-line to these youngsters. Incumbents Shreyas Iyer and Kedar Jadhav have done precious little to inspire much confidence. Manish Pandey is another worthy candidate. But he has hardly got a sustained run in the 50-over format to showcase his promise and stake his claims.
Ravi Shastri, India’s head coach, admitted after India’s 5-1 ODI series win against South Africa last week that an unsettled middle-order is an area of concern going into the 2019 World Cup. He said India’s middle-order batting has looked ordinary because they failed to convert good starts into big totals. He also pointed out that there are young players back in India who are doing extremely and could be in contention in the future.
Vihari, on his part, makes no bones about his India aspirations. “Of course, that’s my ultimate dream. These things are not in my control. I have expanded my game over the last three months or so, and can score at a brisk rate,” he adds. The 24-year-old reckons his stupendous run in this tournament is only the extension of the form he has displayed since the Ranji Trophy, where he amassed over 750 runs. “I’ve been positive, and have continued from the Ranji season. Hence, the preparations have not be anything different. I have made an effort to play my natural game, and this has paid off,” he offers.
The stand-out feature in his batting here has been his strike-rate, which stands at an impressive 109.11. This is indeed refreshing for someone, whose batting has often been dubbed as ‘boring’. Despite his exploits, an IPL contract continues to elude him. “It hurts, but again these things are not under my control. All I can do is to score runs,” he says.
Suryakumar Yadav’s unbeaten 134 in the opening game against Madhya Pradesh set the tone for Mumbai, and his run of form could not have come at a better time. He has, for long, been plagued by inconsistencies in the longer format. That apart, he also had disciplinary issues to contend with. He was a last-minute entrant into Mumbai’s Vijay Hazare Trophy squad last year only after he apologized to the Mumbai Cricket Association for retweeting a post that questioned his exclusion from the Syed Mushtaq T20 tournament. All that is now a thing of the past, and the team would be hoping that he plays a key role for them in the knock-outs. Yadav sounds optimistic.
“All our energies are on winning this tournament. We are qualifying after two years, and really want to make it count,” he notes. in 2012, the 27-year-old was touted as India’s big batting hope. He may have fallen off the radar in the subsequent five seasons. But another robust performance in Delhi could just put him back on the national radar.
Like Yadav, Hooda’s career too was heading into oblivion at the end of this Ranji season. Gross inconsistencies had threatened to derail the blossoming career. The 22-year-old has used this tournament to reclaim his vigour, and the 334 runs he has scored, puts him one spot behind Vihari in the top run-getters list. A regular in India A tours and a plum contract with the Sunrisers Hyderabad in IPL, Hooda has come close of making the shift to the upper grade on several instances in the past.
A match-winning knock against Karnataka in the quarter-final at his favourite hunting ground — the Feroz Shah Kotla — could just turn the tide in his favour.
Delhi wants venue shift
Delhi, who are scheduled to play Andhra in the Vijay Hazare quarter-final at the Palam Ground, have asked the BCCI to shift the venue to their home turf — the Feroz Shah Kotla. “Since the knock-outs are taking place in New Delhi, we should be playing at our home ground in Feroz Shah Kotla. Teams in the past have played at home to gain advantage. We have written to the BCCI asking them to shift our venue,” Delhi’s manager Shanker Saini said. This request has been turned down by the BCCI.
“The venues for the knock-outs have already been decided. There’s no question of a shift now. The idea is to have these games (the knock-out games) at neutral venues. In any case, if Delhi win the quarter-final, they can play at Kotla, which is the venue for the semi-final,” said Saba Karim BCCI’s General Manager (Cricket Operations).