Match Analysis

Vihari banks on calm self-awareness

The century in Jamaica was built around clear understanding of his game and how to turn that knowledge into runs

In three innings on this tour of West Indies, Hanuma Vihari has walked in at 93 for 4, 187 for 4 and 164 for 4. They were three distinct scenarios, a small sampling of the kind of challenges a Test-match No. 6 can expect to face: a rocky start on the first day of the series, a push towards a third-innings declaration, a 50-50 day-one position on a tricky pitch.
Each time, Vihari has left India in a markedly improved position from when he began his innings. On Friday and Saturday at Sabina Park, he played his most impressive innings yet, a maiden Test hundred that radiated a sense of calm self-awareness.
It takes batsmen time to develop an intimate knowledge of the contours of their own game. Vihari was playing only his sixth Test match, but it was his 75th first-class game. Somewhere along the way, he's figured out what works best for him.
As he settles into his stance, Vihari takes great care in lining up his right eye - no doubt his dominant eye - so that it has the best possible view of the bowler's approach and release. Like a number of batsmen around the world - most notably Rory Burns - his stance is two-eyed without being explicitly front-on in the manner of Shivnarine Chanderpaul.
Otherwise, Vihari's set-up is simplicity itself: upright and still, with bat held up behind him like most of his contemporaries, and a small and almost imperceptible back-and-across trigger movement to get him going.
When the bowler releases, Vihari is in a pretty good position to judge the line of balls in the fourth-stump channel, but is especially well placed to play full balls angling into his stumps. His front pad isn't in the way of his bat coming down straight, and his head, aligned the way it is, is unlikely to tip over and unbalance him. It's the perfect position from which to work the ball of his legs or drive through mid-on and midwicket.
The shot of his innings came early on, when he was batting on 1. Kemar Roach bowled one a touch too full, on the stumps, and Vihari drove him to the left of mid-on with a smooth straight-bat punch. If he seemed in position to play the shot even before the ball was delivered, it was because he was, pretty much.
When the ball is on a wider line, however, he isn't as well equipped to play it. He isn't a huge mover of his feet, and that limits his off-side game somewhat. His square and cover drives - such as those he hit off Shannon Gabriel against the second new ball, late on day one - are pleasing on the eye, but they are products of his reach and hand-eye coordination rather than a big front-foot stride. On pitches like this one at Sabina Park, they are strokes to be played only off half-volleys.
The one major criticism of West Indies' bowling to Vihari, perhaps, could be that they didn't test him enough with the short ball
Vihari knew this better than anyone else. His innings was a triumph of waiting for the bowlers to drift into his areas of strength. Of his 111 runs, 76 came through the leg side. Only 12 of his scoring shots came through the off side, and of them, eight came after he had passed 50.
No matter how self-aware you are, and how good your plans are, your decision-making is still complicated by the bowling, the conditions, and the state of the match. Runs flowed far less freely for Vihari on Saturday than they had on Friday, when he scored his first 42 runs. He lost his overnight partner Rishabh Pant to the first ball of the day, and both Roach and Jason Holder - bowling with a ball that was still fairly new - went past his edge in the opening overs of the day. Gabriel, so wayward on day one, rediscovered his lengths and his menace.
"I knew they would come hard in the first session, because that's their best chance of getting us out early," Vihari said at the end of the day's play. "They did get an early wicket with Rishabh getting out on the first ball. But I just wanted to bat patiently and wait for the balls which are in my area, and that's exactly what I did, and I am happy that I could stick to my game plan."
After lunch, Vihari only scored two runs off 28 balls before Gabriel bowled one at his pads and allowed him to move from 86 to 90. The wait and the release together summed up his innings.
"Today I was batting on 84 during lunch time, then it took me an hour to get to the 90 mark," Vihari said. "So obviously I was patient, they bowled really well after lunch. You have to give credit to the bowlers as well, they hung in there. Even though we scored 400, [it doesn't reflect] the way they bowled."
The one major criticism of West Indies' bowling to Vihari, perhaps, could be that they didn't test him enough with the short ball. Ben Stokes got him out fending in the second innings of his debut Test at The Oval last year, and Pat Cummins bounced him out twice at the MCG.
On a bouncy Sabina Park pitch, West Indies' quicks only bowled 11 genuinely short balls to Vihari, according to ESPNcricinfo's data. Vihari, though, looked fairly comfortable the few times he had to deal with the bouncer, seemingly having made his mind up to duck or sway every time and not attempt the hook or pull.
Whether Vihari will continue to avoid the horizontal-bat shots - it worked pretty well for M Vijay, who shelved the hook and pull for most of his Test career - or add them to his repertoire remains to be seen. For now, he looks like a man with a clear idea of what he's good at and what he isn't, and of how to convert that knowledge into runs.

Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo