Never imagined getting hospital bed would be so difficult: Vihari
Crushing the pain barrier to save a Test match is by no measure a small feat but for Hanuma Vihari, the biggest satisfaction these days comes from being able to arrange a hospital bed or oxygen cylinders for desperate COVID-19 patients through a network of friends.
The surge in fatalities and cases during the pandemic's second wave has created an unprecedented health crisis where social media has become an important tool to seek and give emergency help.
A lot of Indian cricketers have been doing their bit, ranging from making financial donations to helping people procure essential medical care.
Vihari, while being in the UK for his county stint, has used his Twitter handle to amplify appeals for help. He has also created a team of 100 volunteers, comprising friends and followers from across Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Karnataka.
Just like Congress leader BV Srinivas in New Delhi, Vihari's friends and followers have reached people with plasma, oxygen cylinders and arranged food and hospital beds for patients
"I don't want to glorify myself. I am doing it with the intention of helping people at the ground level, who actually need every help possible in these difficult times. It is just the start," the 27-year-old said in an exclusive interview.
Vihari left for England in early April to play in the English county for Warwickshire and is expected to join the Indian team directly in the UK when they arrive on June 3.
Vihari, like every Indian, has been shocked by the obstacles that COVID-19 patients and their families have encountered on a daily basis. The difficulties have included finding something as basic as hospital beds, oxygen supplies and essential medicines.
"With the second wave being so strong, getting a bed became a difficulty and that is something which is unthinkable. So, I decided to use my followers as my volunteers and help as many people as I can," Vihari, who has more than 110,000 followers, said.
"My goal is to actually mainly reach out to those people who are not able to afford or arrange for plasma, beds and essential medicine. But this is not enough. I would like to do more service in the future," said the man, who has 624 runs in 11 Tests.
For Vihari, when the distress calls and messages for help started pouring in, he wanted to create a network of help givers and he found that support from common people, his own family and Andhra teammates like Prithviraj Yarra.
"I built my own team. It's all about good intentions and people do get inspired and come out to help me.
"I have around 100 people on a WhatsApp group as volunteers and it's their hard work that we have been able to help a few people. Yes, I am a cricketer, well known but I am able to help because of their untiring efforts to reach the distressed," said Vihari.
He started on Twitter but his team has now spread across various platforms to help and when he is not facing a Stuart Broad or Olly Stone in the biting cold English weather, he personally ensures that he and his friends vet all the appeals for help.
"I started as one and now we have many friends in different platforms through my following on social media. I send them requests I get and they do the search. I chip in if any recommendations are required or to post on social media," Vihari said.
"Even my wife, sister and few of my Andhra teammates are part of my volunteer team. It's so heartening to see their support," Vihari said.
Talking about India's upcoming tour of England, Vihari said that if he is asked to open at some point during the five-Test series, he is not averse to the idea.
"I will do anything the team asks of me," said the man who batted for three and half hours with a torn hamstring to save the Sydney Test against Australia earlier this year.
"I batted top of the order most of my career so I'm familiar to the challenge," added Vihari.
He had opened for India in the 2018-19 Test series in Australia.
Vihari knows very well that Washington Sundar grabbed his chances during his injury-forced absence but he is keen on focussing on his own game.
"I am happy that he (Washington) did well but I would like to focus on my own game and try to control the controllables," said the soft-spoken man.
But what about rolling his arms over more to give that balance to the side, he replied: "I am working on my off-breaks."
Vihari was contracted to play three games for Warwickshire and his best show has been scores of 32 and 52 against Essex at Edgbaston, with Alastair Cook in the opposition ranks.
"It's been challenging as it's early part of the season but I have gained good experience. Getting used to the climate and pitches here is the idea. Hope it helps during the WTC final against New Zealand and the series against England," he said.
Having enjoyed a successful A tour of UK back in 2018 followed by a half-century on Test debut at the Oval, Vihari loves playing in England and the challenges that one faces while countering seam and swing.
"It's a good place to play cricket. So I would enjoy the challenge," he said.
Vihari is still in Birmingham where he is doing his daily routines and one thing that he is getting used to is the cold and damp conditions of early English summer.
"It is tough in this cold but again it's a different experience. Yes, I am still training in Birmingham," he signed off.