Late on Saturday, when Hanuma Vihari walked down the steps from the dressing room onto the field, he had to stand a few minutes on his own while his captain skirted off for a toilet break. India had lost the quick wickets of Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane to slip to 103 for 4, and though Virat Kohli was going strong, he was annoyed at the mistakes of all his top-order batsman.
Vihari was quiet, but nervous. Kohli soon returned and patted him on his shoulder to wish him luck as the debutant prepared to face his first ball in international cricket.
Vihari would have wanted to walk in at a better time. Whatever thoughts were crowding in his mind, he had to banish them as that first ball in Test cricket was due to be bowled by James Anderson, a man who had been piqued by umpire Kumar Dharmasena after his refusal of a close call for lbw against Kohli.
Anderson bowled full and swung it away. Vihari leaned forward and dead-batted it. In that first stroke, Vihari showed his willingness to play the ball and not get hindered by doubts. His journey in international cricket had begun.
He might have been shaky and nervous on that initial evening, but this morning Vihari was far more composed and confident in his defence and strokeplay. His head had been falling away yesterday and he was vulnerable against the inswinging ball. But today he looked far more balanced and would go to crack a half-century in his maiden Test innings and emulate a pair of former Indian captains, Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid, the last two men to have achieved a similar feat in their first innings in England.
Crucially, his 77-run partnership for the seventh wicket with Ravindra Jadeja, the highest by India’s lower order in this Test series, brought India back in the final Test.
Below, Vihari describes in his own words his journey into Test cricket:
On his nervous beginning
Initially I felt the pressure, to be honest. Going in yesterday, cloudy conditions and Stuart Broad and (James) Anderson bowling at you. I had nerves. With that, I wasn’t good with my decision-making. But having Virat at the other made my job a little easier, I guess. His inputs helped me initially. He’s been playing very confidently throughout the series and he’s confidence boosted me at the other end. I will give a lot of credit to him for helping me out yesterday initially. But once I settled down, the wicket was very good to bat on, especially with the medium-pacers. It got a lot slower yesterday.
On his early difficulties against the inswinger
Nerves make you do unusual things. If I don’t have any pressure on me, if I settle down nicely, I don’t think any ball will cause me trouble. Yesterday, I definitely had problems facing the incoming delivery but Virat gave me some cues so that I could play it comfortably. I tried doing that yesterday. And even this morning, I tried to negate that inswinging ball, especially from Broad. I did it more comfortably than in the initial stages.
On learning that he was about to make his Test debut
I got to know the day before the match. Obviously, I was very thrilled. Because that was my dream, growing up playing cricket. I first informed my family about it and they were very, very happy as well. Getting a fifty on debut is just the start.
On India A coach Dravid’s influence
I called him [Dravid] the day before I made my debut and told him I was making my debut. He spoke to me for a couple of minutes and gave his inputs and I thought it eased my nerves a little bit, because it is coming from a legend and you know that you belong here. He just told me that you have the skillset, you have the mindset and the temperament, just go out there and enjoy yourself. I would like to give him a lot of credit for that because my journey with India A was very important for me to come here, because not only that I performed there, but the way he gave us inputs, that made me a better player.