'I decided I'd finish the match' - Vihari
The plan Sunrisers Hyderabad team-mates Hanuma Vihari and Ashish Reddy discussed before Vinay Kumar started the final over of their match against Royal Challengers Bangalore was to play every ball and not panic. Sunrisers needed seven to register their second win in as many matches. "If we did not waste a single ball then seven runs were possible in the final over. But Ashish got out on the first ball," Vihari said a day after Sunrisers won a thriller in the Super Over.
When Dale Steyn walked in, the message was clear. "We discussed hitting bat on ball and running hard between the wickets and looking to take the match to the last ball," Vihari said. He watched Steyn take two runs from the second delivery of the over and then play and miss the third. "I decided I'd finish the match if and when I get the strike," Vihari said. He finally took strike with the Sunrisers needing four runs off the final two balls, which was reduced to two off the final delivery after he dug out a "good yorker" to get a double.
For the final ball, Vihari stood deep in the crease. As soon as Vinay delivered the ball, Steyn charged blindly forward. But Vinay second-guessed his opponent with a smart slower delivery. "I expected a yorker, but he bowled a slower ball. I tried to hit it hard for two runs but could not connect." Vihari ran a bye and could not believe it was a tie.
It was a bittersweet moment for Vihari and Sunrisers. Having restricted Royal Challengers to a modest 130, the hosts faltered frequently in the chase. And when the Lankan pair of Kumar Sangakkara and Thisara Perera departed in quick succession, the onus was on Vihari. Despite his age - 19 - Vihari decided to play the guiding hand to his partner Reddy, an aggressive player. Their 23-run partnership for the seventh wicket snatched the momentum in Sunrisers' favour. "A player like Ashish can strike at any given point. So I was telling him to pick the right ball and if it was not in his range to focus on taking singles and keep the dot balls count low," Vihari says.
It's this sensible streak that prompted the team management to promote Vihari to No. 3. Sangakkara, Sunrisers' captain, had decided to drop himself to No. 5 to counter the middle overs from the Muralis - Muttiah Muralitharan and Murali Kartik. "When early wickets fell, Tom [Moody] told me I would bat at No. 4. My plan was to take it as close as possible to the target," Vihari said.
Despite his batting prowess, Vihari's most telling impact had come with the ball - in fact his very first ball of the match. Sangakkara had already told him that he would be bowling with the new ball against Chris Gayle since the Jamaican had got out a few times in the past to off spinners. Being the only off-break bowler in the team on Sunday, Vihari executed the plan nicely: pitching on the off he got a little bounce that surprised Gayle, who went for the cut and was caught behind. "I have kept the picture of the Gayle wicket," Vihari says of his best souvenir.
A wristy player, Vihari is a good striker of the ball and plays shots on both sides of the wicket. His best innings to date has been against Mumbai in the Ranji Trophy this season when he scored a career-best 191 runs in a drawn match.
John Manoj, Vihari's coach at St. John's Cricket Academy in Hyderabad, noticed that the youngster could hit the ball "very hard" when he picked him as a nine-year-old. Manoj's best student has been VVS Laxman, who is the mentor at Sunrisers now. Manoj had helped Vihari join the St. Andrew School in Bowenpally in Secunderabad and observed a keen student in Vihari. "I observed him playing confidently against the ball on the rise against fast bowlers from a tender age," Manoj said. Last year Laxman was impressed by Vihari's strokeplay on wet practice pitches and enquired more about the youngster.
At the beginning of the IPL, Laxman told Vihari to "express himself and play his natural game" without getting distracted at all about playing such a big tournament. The significance of those words has not been lost on Vihari.
Vihari dedicated his Man-of-the-Match award to his mother, who was at the ground with his sister, and his late father, who'd died in 2005. At the time, the 11-year-old Vihari was playing in a school tournament. His mother asked him to play cricket since his father always wanted him to play cricket. "It was two days after his death but my mother asked me to go ahead and I decided to respect her word," Vihari says.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo