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After finding no takers in the 2014 IPL auction, Hanuma Vihari signed up with Hutton CC in the Essex league in England. During his time off, he was in the stands for the Lord's Test that year, soaking in Ajinkya Rahane's counterattacking century. Four years later at The Oval, he would walk in to bat after Rahane was dismissed.
After overcoming early jitters, he made a fifty on Test debut and claimed three wickets to boot. He could not break into the XI for the home series against West Indies that followed, but celebrated his 25th birthday with the side. Some turnaround, eh?
"It was a wonderful Test where Ajinkya [Rahane] got that hundred. I think I went to watch the second day, but after four years actually me representing India was also wonderful. It was a great feeling," Vihari gushed on the sidelines of the Vijay Hazare Trophy quarter-final between Andhra and Hyderabad at the Just Cricket Academy Ground in Bengaluru.
"Sharing the dressing room with them on my birthday was very special. Because it was my first birthday after coming into the national side and everyone greeted me well."
Vihari had started out being a nervous wreck in his early exchanges at The Oval. He fell over his front foot and was pinned plumb in front for a duck by Stuart Broad. But umpire Joel Wilson shot down the appeal, and England didn't review either, handing Vihari a lifeline. Broad kept targetting his pads with booming inswingers, but a piece of advice from captain Virat Kohli helped him weather that burst.
"I was just looking to get the runs to get the deficit down and obviously having Virat at the other end helped because he gave me clues of what Broad was doing," Vihari said. "I was making adjustments with my front foot because he [Broad] was getting it in quite sharply. I [opened my stance], giving more space with my front foot and those were the adjustments I made to ensure I counter the inswing.
Vihari picked out his straight drive off left-arm seamer Sam Curran as the shot that made him believe he "belonged here".
"That was the moment where I got confidence because if you move your feet in and drive the ball, you get your eye in," he said. "Those are one of the moments you need in international cricket to be confident about yourself."
Vihari wasn't as confident when he went unsold in the 2014 auction. He did get another gig with Sunrisers Hyderabad the next season, but he blew it by tallying just 39 runs in four innings. He hasn't been part of the IPL since.
"He was always talented but there was a time when he wasn't getting the opportunity," Vihari's former coach at Andhra, and current India Under-19 bowling coach Sanath Kumar said. "He wasn't getting recognition and he wasn't even getting picked up for the IPL. All those things - and some bad experiences in Hyderabad - weighed on his mind and he started doubting himself. "
Such setbacks have defined Vihari's career. He lost his father in 2005 when he was 12 and was later dropped from Under-13s state side. He hadn't been selected for the 2012 Under-19 World Cup either, but was eventually picked as a last-minute replacement for the injured Manan Vohra.
"These setbacks have made me a better person," he said. "Once you reflect on it, it will make you more humble and whatever you achieve, you have to keep going consistently and not relax or get complacent. But those are things, which make you stronger. If you are strong enough, it can make you a stronger person. Otherwise, you crumble. That is the choice I had. Every international player has a story. This is my story."
He has added another chapter to his story by unlocking his power game in limited-overs cricket. It was on display against Hyderabad on Monday: he cracked four sixes in his 99-ball 95, including three that went out of the ground. He also was central to Andhra qualifying for the semi-finals in the 2017-18 Vijay Hazare Trophy, scoring 378 runs in eight innings at an average of 54 and strike-rate of 103.84. Only his Andhra team-mate KS Bharat, Saurashtra's Cheteshwar Pujara and Karnataka's Mayank Agarwal had made more runs than him in that season.
"My mindset has also changed in limited-overs cricket. I want to be more aggressive," Vihari said. "I have a formula in the four-day format, which I don't want to change much. But in the one-dayers and T20s, I want to be more expressive; I know I have the shots. I want to be the X-factor in the team. I just don't want to contribute to the team score but I also want to win matches. With my game, I want to create some fear in the opposition when I'm there in the crease."