New Delhi: Hanuma Vihari has been punching above his weight ever since he made his India debut and that's why he is ready to deal with "low expectations" in a bid to change the popular perception of not being good enough for the T20 format in the upcoming IPL.
Vihari is back in the IPL, which starts March 23, with the Delhi Capitals after going unsold at the auction for three years primarily due to an unimpressive strike rate of sub 100.
"I think because of the slow strike-rate of the past, people won't have expectations from me, which can be a great thing. I take it positively, because now I have a chance to prove them all wrong," Vihari told PTI in an exclusive interview.
The Delhi Capitals have a star-studded top order with Shikhar Dhawan, Prithvi Shaw, skipper Shreyas Iyer and the indomitable Rishabh Pant in the ranks.
Vihari knows it will be a fight to get into the playing XI but he is ready to don the role of a finisher the same way he agreed to open for India in unfamiliar conditions in Melbourne.
"Honestly, given that I am playing the IPL after a three-year gap, I am ready to go out there and bat anywhere the management asks me to, whether it's at the top of the order, or in the role of a finisher.
"On my part, I am really in a great mental space and a great position as far as my game is concerned. I am really well-prepared for everything right now," the 25-year-old Andhra batsman said.
He was a part of Sunrisers Hyderabad in 2013 but a lot has changed since then. He has scored loads of runs for India A and also struck a fifty against England on his Test debut.
"I am excited, and fully ready for the season ahead with Delhi Capitals. Mainly because in these three years, I have developed so much as a player.
"I am much more confident of performing now. Also, we have a great mix of Indian and foreign players. I am really looking forward to playing under Shreyas and Ricky's (Ricky Ponting) leadership," Vihari said.
The soft-spoken Vihari feels his India stint will make a difference as it has upped his confidence so necessary in a slam-bang tournament.
"It gives me a huge boost for sure. I think things have worked out quite timely for me. The IPL opportunity could not have come to me at a better time."
Told to open a Test innings with another rookie, Mayank Agarwal, against Australia at the MCG, Vihari managed only 8 off 66 balls.
However, what the scoreboard did not reflect was the manner in which Vihari blunted the new ball attack and gave Cheteshwar Pujara the platform to set up the victory with a dogged hundred.
"It was quite tough. At the international level, the challenge of opening the innings is totally different from domestic. The deliveries come fast, and they come high.
"The openers obviously are targeted more because the opposition wants early breakthroughs. But it's exciting as well because walking out there to bat in front of 80,000 people at the MCG is quite an unbelievable feeling. I didn't sleep the previous night," he said.
He is most comfortable in the middle order but won't mind facing the red cherry at the start of an innings if asked to do so once again.
"Yes, I will do whatever is needed for the team. These are situations you face as a sportsman, and you have got to learn to accept it. Whether it's playing for India or Delhi Capitals, I don't want to be tagged as the guy who is not a team man. I want to be out there for our team," Vihari said with conviction.
The best part about that MCG innings was the vote of confidence from national coach Ravi Shastri and captain Virat Kohli.
"They said I did a great job. The number of runs didn't matter. Because of the start, it made Pujara and Kohli's job easier after that."
The difference in confidence was evident as he toyed with the Vidarbha attack during his twin hundreds for Rest of India in the Irani Trophy.
Asked if the Vidarbha attack bothered him considering he had played the likes of Stuart Broad, Jimmy Anderson, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazelwood in the preceding months?
"Well, the two challenges are different for sure. But against Vidarbha, the wicket was a challenging one. They are a quality side, and I needed to be on top of my game in terms of focus and concentration. I am happy I could score centuries in both innings."
For him, his mother is the biggest source of inspiration, who has helped him stay grounded despite all the adulation coming his way.
"My mother is still the same. She keeps telling me to remain humble and grounded. And she tells me not to settle, just because I have earned my Indian cap doesn't mean I should stop chasing my dreams."
He was recognised at the airports on arrival from England and Australia but the best part was coming out and finding his mother waiting to receive him.
"She makes it a point to be at the airport each time I am back from a tour. And of course, prepares my favourite dishes when I am home. Anything she cooks is amazing, but her specialty is a dry fruit laddu it's tasty and healthy.