Who is Hanuma Vihari?

All you need to know about the 24-year-old middle-order batsman with the best first-class average among all contemporary cricketers

Shashank Kishore
Shashank Kishore
Hanuma Vihari drives the ball square, India A v South Africa A, 2nd unofficial Test, 1st day, Alur, August 10, 2018


Hanuma Vihari has become the first Andhra cricketer in 19 years to be picked in India's Test squad, for the fourth and fifth Tests in England. MSK Prasad, the former India wicketkeeper and current selection committee chief, was the last cricketer from the state to play Test cricket, when he debuted against New Zealand in September 1999. Here is the lowdown on the 24-year old middle-order batsman.
Did you know?
Vihari is at the summit of a very elite list. Among all contemporary cricketers, Vihari has the world's best 's first-class average of 59.45. Steven Smith, the next best, is at 57.27.
What has he done to merit selection?
The first sign of Vihari being on the selection radar came in June, when he was one of just four players to be picked in both the 50-overs and four-day squads for India A's tour of England. He made the opportunity count by finishing as the third-highest run-getter in the one-day tri-series (253 runs in three innings with a best of 147 against West Indies A). In his most recent first-class game against South Africa A in Bengaluru, he struck a match-winning 148. He now has two fifties and a century in his last five first-class innings.
Has he played overseas outside of his stints with India A?
Vihari isn't an IPL regular; he last featured in 2015. He has spent his recent summers either in England or Bangladesh playing league cricket. In England, he played two seasons (2014 and 2015) for Hutton CC in the Shephered Neame Essex First Division League, where he's made six centuries. That aside, he's been part of preparatory tours to Sri Lanka with Andhra, the state he now plays for after shifting from Hyderabad in 2016.
What are his strengths?
Sanath Kumar, now part of the India Under-19 and India A set-ups as bowling coach, has had a ringside view of Vihari the batsman in a two-year term as Andhra coach. "He is very strong square of the wicket on both sides, and that is a direct sign of good back-foot play," Sanath told ESPNcricinfo. "His picking of lengths is a great strength; it gives him more time to play his shots.
"In the 2017-18 red-ball season, he worked a lot on his bat-swing, playing straight and close to the body, in tough conditions. His discipline to leave and eliminate those extravagant drives got him the runs. If you purely go by the numbers, many others may have outscored him, but in terms of quality, he was right up there. In the shorter versions, there was some reluctance to bat higher initially, but his strike rates have improved tremendously without making a compromise on his methods."
What did the "good qualities" fetch him during the 2017-18 domestic season?
He finished the Ranji Trophy season with 752 runs in six matches at 94.00, including a career-best 302 not out, his maiden triple-century, against Odisha. The highlight, though, came in the Irani Cup in March against Ranji Trophy champions Vidarbha. He top scored for Rest of India with a 327-ball 183, a stonewalling effort against a pace attack consisting Umesh Yadav and Rajneesh Gurbani, the leading wicket-taker in the 2017-18 Ranji Trophy season. He battled his way through with the lower order for company, and shared a 216-run seventh-wicket partnership with Jayant Yadav.
What has he done in junior cricket?
Vihari was an Under-19 World Cup winner in 2012. He wasn't initially part of the squad, but was picked after Manan Vohra, the opening batsman, fractured his thumb a day before the team's departure to Australia. In the subsequent year, he played for Sunrisers Hyderabad in the IPL and even dismissed Chris Gayle, after being asked to bowl his fastish offbreaks with the new ball.

Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo