India came into the practice match against New Zealand XI with the headache of whom to select between Prithvi Shaw and Shubman Gill as an opener but after a day of play in Hamilton, Hanuma Vihari's name could tempt the team management as well following the failures of regular openers in the squad.
Shaw and Gill are fighting for the second opener's slot in the absence of Rohit Sharma along with Mayank Agarwal but on Friday, both of them failed to register a run at Seddon Park. While Shaw fell for a 4-ball duck to Scott Kuggeleijn, Gill was out on the first ball.
But, unlike the duo, Vihari made the most of the opportunity presented and struck a confident 101 off 182 balls and stitched a 195-run fifth wicket stand with Cheteshwar Pujara, who himself scored an assuring 93 off 211 balls.
Vihari's knock couldn't have come at a better time as it not only focuses on the need for India to play an extra batsman but also their frailties at the top when the ball is swinging.
The Andhra batter's steady knock and composed nature allowed him to see of the new ball, which the top-order in the absence of Virat Kohli failed to negotiate. Vihari's immense experience and ability to grind in along with the century behind his back could now make him a surprise choice for the opener's slot if at all India decide against playing six batsmen.
What works in Vihari's favour is that he is no stranger to the opener's slot. In 2018, Vihari was asked to open the batting after KL Rahul was dropped from the side against Australia and he did a good job at that. Playing with a debutant in Mayank Agarwal in front of 75,000 people in a Boxing Day Test is never easy but Vihari did well to negate the new ball and shield the middle-order before falling for 8. He lasted 66 balls that day, which allowed the likes of Pujara and Kohli to come in later and score runs and give India a solid base.
If Vihari at all gets to open in Wellington, he can do the same job with a Mayank, who despite the failure in the first innings, remains India's best opener in the last one year. With experience behind his back and a solidity at the other end, Mayank will gain further confidence and can build a good innings at the top.
Vihari's numbers aren't bad either and he has always shown enough potential whenever given a chance. In 7 Tests, he has scored 466 runs at an average of 42.36, scoring one century and three fifties as well.
Hanuma's place in the side depends on the team combination but his century now gives India food for thought regarding the opener's slot. If India at all decide to go with five bowler's, Vihari could well be their opener and also serve as another bowler but if the formula remains six batters -- Vihari's inclusion will be as a No.6 and second spinner to either of Ravindra Jadeja or R Ahsiwn.