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Hanuma Vihari: 'I play to win, even if batting with one hand or one leg'

"Even if I motivated or inspired a few youngsters, then I would be happy. I feel it was worth it: worth the pain"

Nagraj Gollapudi
Pain, sweat, and at times, glory. Those are things that make the spectacle of sport a joy to watch. Hanuma Vihari had at least one tale to tell before this week through his heroics in the Sydney Test against Australia in 2020-21, when he - along with R Ashwin - battled through pain to take India to a nerve-tangling draw.
This week the normally right-handed Vihari made headlines by batting as a left-hander in both innings of Andhra's Ranji Trophy quarter-final match against Madhya Pradesh in Indore after being hit on his left hand by fast bowler Avesh Khan. On Friday, Andhra bowed out of Ranji this season, but Vihari, their captain, spoke to ESPNcricinfo, after the game to talk about why he did what he did.
How is your left forearm?
On the first day [of the match], we were batting first, [and] Avesh bowled a short-of-a-length delivery. I fended it off with my left arm, [but] when I got hit, immediately I knew that something was wrong because I had never felt that [kind of] pain before whenever I had got hit [in the past]. I wanted to continue, but I couldn't. I couldn't grip the bat.
So I went off and went for an X-ray. It showed that I had a fracture [in the forearm]. I was devastated because maybe after 113 matches, I'm playing my first quarter-final in the Ranji Trophy. I had waited for so long to play that quarter-final, but that is what it is. The doctor assessed, and [advised] six weeks of rest. Thankfully, I don't require surgery as of now. I got a plaster done.
When did you decide you were going to bat again in the first innings?
When we were 262 for 2, our physio Deep Tomar called me to his room. He told me, "I wouldn't advise you to bat because if you get hit again, you might need a surgery". I said, "We are in a good position, so I don't think I would need to bat". But next day (day 2), we collapsed to 324 for 4, and then 350 for 7 or 8 [353 for 9]. Then I went and gripped my bat with my left hand, and I couldn't do it.
I looked at my other hand, and then I thought why not try to bat left-handed; just a thought came into my mind. Then I told the coach that I want to try to bat left-handed with one hand. The coach said, "Whatever you feel right, go ahead and do it". My team-mates helped me actually put on the pads and every protection I needed: chest pad and arm guard. I tried to have a knock in the dressing room itself. I played a few balls [left-handed], then said, "Let me go ahead, and just try and add few runs for the team".
Have you batted left-handed ever before at this level?
I've not even batted left-handed when we played tennis-ball cricket or in the street when I was young. I had never imagined that in a first-class game - that too in a quarter-final - I would be batting left-handed with a single hand.
What compelled you to do it then?
I just wanted to go out in [on] the field and show that I don't want to just be retired out and not be able to contribute. Even if I got out first ball, it wouldn't matter, but I just wanted to be there on the ground, show our team that I'm there to fight for the team, [and] if I do that, then the rest ten of us will definitely give their best to win the game for the side. So that was the main intention.
And it was an important game for Andhra: we qualified through a tough group, and we came into the quarters, so I wanted to lead by example, showing the right way forward for my team. Actually, we fought hard after that. Unfortunately, the result didn't go our way.
How light is your bat? It seemed like you were wielding a sweep.
Funnily enough, I didn't take my bat because my bat is a bit heavier. I took the lightest bat possible in the dressing room.
It was Avesh again who you would face first ball. You nicely timed it for a four past the square boundary. Can you talk about the sequence of events around that delivery?
Avesh was running in and bowling quick. He tried to bowl a yorker [first ball], which ended up being a low full toss. So I used the pace, and angled the bat. Luckily, it went to the boundary. But one thing in my mind was to just try and play the stump-line ball. And if he bowls a bouncer, then try to duck it, which is difficult batting left-handed. It was difficult batting right-handed itself, which I couldn't do in the initial stages [after getting hit on day one]; but doing it with the left hand, [and] with a single hand [was more difficult].
But one thing was in my mind that even if I get hit on my body, that doesn't matter: I'll play the stump-line ball, and try to play at least 10-15 balls, [and] as much as I could. The fear wasn't there. Because I knew the basics of batting - whether it's the right hand or the left hand - I know I can defend the stump-line ball. So I was quite sure about facing fast bowling, and I got out to a spinner later on with the ball turning, which I couldn't handle with a single hand.
In the first innings, at one point it seemed you were able to kind of lightly grip with your bottom hand (left hand)?
I was trying to, but when a bowler was running in, then I removed my left hand because I couldn't exert any pressure on it. I thought there was no point.
Was the opposition surprised watching you bat left-handed?
When I came in at No. 11 [in the first innings], they thought may be I would bat right-handed. But when I took the left-hander's guard, most of them were surprised. "Is he really doing it?", that was the kind of expression on their faces. But all the players and even the umpires were appreciative. At the same time they were quite competitive, and didn't show any sympathy. I wouldn't expect any sympathy [either], as we were playing a quarter-final.
When you came back to bat the second time - as the last man in the second innings - what made you do that? Why did you risk going in?
We didn't have enough [runs in the second innings] for a start. We collapsed quite badly in the second innings. So I had to go in to bat. I got the plaster [on the left arm] just after lunch. But after the drinks break post-lunch, we collapsed, losing three or four wickets quickly. So after tea, I knew I had to bat; I had to contribute some runs because we were in a tight situation. I thought going in was a right idea. I tried to put the glove in. I just managed to put the glove in, then I just went in and tried to play some shots.
Did you need to take an injection as a painkiller?
I took some tablets, but not an injection. I couldn't really sleep. It was hurting. I slept in patches, but when I have pain I had to get up; it was disturbing.
"The basics of batting helped: how to defend the ball, just watching the ball, and trying to meet the ball, which [though] was a challenge"
Vihari on how he managed to bat left-handed despite naturally being a right-hander
You stepped out against spin few times in the second innings. Which was your favorite shot as a left-hander?
I was just trying to play the field (chuckles). I was just backing myself to connect a few balls. Actually, I missed quite a few, but luckily enough I connected three balls which went to the boundary. I made up my mind because the offspinner was bowling, and playing right handed is my strength. So I tried to switch [to sweep like a right hander], and play that shot, which went through the gap. The basics of batting helped: how to defend the ball, just watching the ball, and trying to meet the ball, which [though] was a challenge.
You had summed up the experience of batting with a strapped right hamstring against Australia in Sydney in 2020-21 as "sweet pain". How do you describe this one?
If we had ended up winning, I would have still said it was sweet. Although every one of us - the whole Andhra team - gave their best, we collapsed in a session, which is very hurting. But we are proud of the fact that we gave everything for the side. So I wouldn't be disappointed. Even if I motivated or inspired a few youngsters, then I would be happy. I feel it was worth it: worth the pain.
You are bound to be disappointed that Andhra did not make it to the semi-final. But Andhra were not going to make the quarter-final at one point, and you had to erase a tweet which read: "4 wins in 7, but not to be this year. We will come back stronger next year". So at least you came forward a step?
I am definitely proud of the team for making it to the quarters, but I wouldn't say I'm satisfied because we have a goal of winning the Ranji Trophy. So we don't want to restrict or limit ourselves just to the quarter-finals. But next year, we have to make sure we are well prepared, and going all the way and winning the trophy.
You have not been part of the Indian Test squad since the one-off Test in England last July. By your standards, you had a lean Ranji season without a century. But still playing this match through pain must give you the satisfaction that you play sport for the joy it brings?
I play sport to win - whether I score a century or whether I'm just contributing to the side. Obviously, any batter will want to get those hundreds and get those big runs in the season. But whether I play for India or whether I play for Andhra, I play to win, even if it's just batting with one hand or batting with one leg.
It is just about going out there, and playing to win and looking at how you have to contribute to the side. That is my main goal when I go into the field. I don't really look at personal milestones or think about a comeback. I just go out there to win a game for the side.

Nagraj Gollapudi is news editor at ESPNcricinfo