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India vs England: Skipper Virat Kohli deserves praise for backing young Hanuma Vihari

Hanuma Vihari’s selection had triggered a big debate because Karun Nair, who marked his last Test against England with a triple century in 2016 and was an original member, was not picked when India chose a sixth batsman.

Updated: Sep 10, 2018 10:32:14

By N Ananthanarayanan

India captain Virat Kohli (left) decided to hand Hanuma Vihari a Test debut going into the fifth Test against England at the Oval. (AFP)

The Oval is more of a farewell venue. People remember one big final act from all-rounder Andrew Flintoff in his last Test of 2009, running out Ricky Ponting in an Ashes contest. On Sunday, a packed crowd cheered on Alastair Cook as England’s record run-getter played his final Test innings against India.

Hanuma Vihari would not have minded the mood one bit on Sunday, as the 24-year-old middle-order batsman gave a solid first impression with the bat. The assured 56 on debut from the Andhra batsman was applauded by Indian and English fans and ended with promise it will win over more neutrals.

His selection had triggered a big debate because Karun Nair, who marked his last Test against England with a triple century in 2016 and was an original member, was not picked when India chose a sixth batsman. And Vihari, with a world-leading first-class average of 59.79 from 63 games with 5142 plus runs coming in, got a hot reception on Saturday evening after joining skipper Virat Kohli with the visitors under pressure.

He escaped two leg-before appeals. One was given, but on review showed the ball was going over. He then top-edged Ben Stokes twice — for a six and a four. Kohli intervened to protect the rookie as Stokes tried to engage him in verbals, which may have led to the India skipper’s loss of concentration and dismissal by the all-rounder later.



But Sunday was different. There was calmness at the crease. Vihari had played in England before — two seasons in the Essex first-division league — and hit a few centuries. He was part of the India ‘A’ squad’s tour of England this summer under Rahul Dravid’s mentorship and did well. His last first-class knock was a 148 against South Africa ‘A’ at Alur on August 10, before the national call-up.

But a debut in England can be life-changing, which was the case with Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid after they announced their arrival in the 1996 Lord’s Test. India were struggling coming into the day’s play, but Vihari played late and with soft hands. He played to the leg side initially, and once he gained confidence, the cover drive was out against Stuart Broad and Ben Stokes. A slog-sweep against Moeen Ali too followed.

In the end, Ali foxed him with one that drifted in and went straight, to be caught behind. But Vihari’s partnership with comeback man Ravindra Jadeja brought India back into the match. There were no signs of nerves once he got set and it needed a very good delivery to get him.

It was a boost to domestic performances and Vihari’s showing promises more opportunities with India to play West Indies at home followed by the Australia tour. In South Africa in January, Kohli had controversially picked Jasprit Bumrah for his debut, keeping out Umesh Yadav, but the young pacer has delivered. If Vihari builds on his impressive start, the Indian skipper would feel vindicated.

First Published: Sep 10, 2018 10:04:48

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