A look at Ambati Rayudu’s career through 3-D glasses
At the start of the century, a young lad, bustling with confidence and maturity beyond his years was causing ripples in the Andhra Pradesh cricketing circuit. Spell-bound by the audacity of some of the shots he attempted, let alone nailed, many touted him to be the next big thing in Indian cricket. After all, at that tender age, not many drew as many collective gasps from the sidelines as a certain Ambati Rayudu.
Yet, nearly a couple of decades later, the career of the right-hander, who once promised to be the perfect blend of pragmatism and purism, has fallen away rather spectacularly. And the 2019 World Cup that was viewed as the crescendo his talent warranted has meandered to a damp squib.
Inevitably, the question circling in everyone’s mind revolves around whether he was ever good enough to don the Indian jersey on a regular basis or if he was another one of those who frustrated just a touch more than he mesmerised. Consequently, if the latter were to be true, he too would join the long (not so illustrious) list of cricketers to have not fulfilled their potential.
Thus, a 3-Dimensional look at his career, charting his success as a precocious teenager to a slightly rough phase with the ICL to his stint with the Indian team, is warranted.
In 2002, he took the world by storm with a sumptuous innings of 177 for the India Under 19 side against England. The next season saw him finish as the third highest run-getter in the Ranji Trophy with a tally of 698 runs. In the third game of that term, he cracked a double century and a hundred in the same match, becoming the youngest ever to do so.
A couple of years later, India sent out a strong contingent to the ICC U-19 World Cup. The team boasted of the likes of Dinesh Karthik, Irfan Pathan, RP Singh, Shikhar Dhawan and Suresh Raina. Yet, among those bright youngsters, it was Rayudu who was entrusted with the responsibility of being the captain.
The Indians enjoyed a sub-standard campaign with their skipper too unable to scale the peaks many had believed he would. He averaged a meagre 24.83 at the tournament and his fiery temper fetched him a ban in the all-important semi-final against Pakistan. And while many cricketers before and after him have recovered from a setback at the U-19 level, Rayudu went downhill rather swiftly after that competition in 2004.
The following seasons saw the right-hander battle with form, several on-field issues and political issues (of course) off it. Inevitably, he gave in to the temptation of the then lucrative Indian Cricket League (ICL) in 2007. Though his reasoning of wanting to play international-quality opposition left a lot to be desired, he clearly seemed to have had enough of domestic cricket and its vices, a rather surprising observation for a 22-year old.
The years in the ICL bore slightly more fruit as he got to play the top-quality opposition he craved for. He even set the competition ablaze with a few scintillating innings. Thus, whenever people watched him play, they groaned that he had chosen to tread on the dubious path of the ‘rebel’ ICL.
However, a silver lining for Rayudu wasn’t too far away. In 2009, the BCCI decided to grant amnesty to 79 Indian cricketers with a view to integrate them back into the domestic circuit. Unsurprisingly, the right-hander bit the BCCI’s hand off and returned to playing for Hyderabad.
A couple of seasons later, he was representing Mumbai Indians in the cash-rich Indian Premier League and suddenly had billions of eyes trained upon him. At that juncture, not many knew what Rayudu had been through. Yet, the simplicity and artistry of his batting captured everyone’s imagination, much like a decade ago.
The runs he piled up in the domestic circuit and the IPL didn’t go unnoticed and he finally made his international bow in 2013 against Zimbabwe, much later than everyone who was a part of the ‘Class of 2004’. He immediately announced his arrival with a controlled fifty and signalled his intention of making a spot in the national side his own.
However, he really made a splash in the 2014 season where he performed admirably in England and then against Sri Lanka at home. The latter also brought him his first international ton.
He was subsequently named in the squad for the 2015 World Cup. Unfortunately, though, he failed to get a game. In the aftermath of that, he took his game up a notch and the only real set-back he faced before the current World Cup was a failed yo-yo test in 2018.
Yet, after coming into the Indian side for the home series against West Indies later in 2018, he looked primed to be India’s No.4 batsman. The flamboyance of his formative years was mixed adroitly with the vigilance of a man into his 30s. It seemed the ideal recipe for success. But, like many a time before in his career, he contrived to let things slip when it seemed easier to grasp them.
At the start of 2019, he failed miserably on the tours to Australia and New Zealand. He didn’t help himself with a poor showing in the home series against the Aussies and suddenly, several seemed to have stolen a march on him. The 2019 IPL too showcased deficiencies that many believed he didn’t possess.
Thus, he was left out of the World Cup squad. The World Cup that was to be his crowning glory now had to be watched on from the comforts of his home, a prospect, one must say he didn’t quite take in his stride.
Numerous back and forth Twitter conversations and unfavourable (for him) squad replacements later, Rayudu finally decided that it was time to hang up his boots. Yet, those who followed him closely wouldn’t have been too flabbergasted with how his career petered out at the end.
After all, the top brass had again over-looked him at a time when he deserved at least another bite at the cherry. The above led to him losing his infamous temper and taking digs at people that irked the globe even more. And akin to many previous incidents, that chain of events didn’t end well for Rayudu.
The Indian team has called up two replacements at the World Cup so far. Yet, Rayudu, despite being a standby has hardly been mentioned. However, that just explains his cricketing journey in a microcosm: a ton of promise, a scourge of frustration, a reckless decision-maker, a lack of opportunistic moments and inevitably, a cricketer with unfulfilled promise.
As the dust settles on his retirement, there would be no arguing that Rayudu was indeed one of the brightest batting talents India has ever produced. He was earmarked to rub shoulders with the likes of Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma on a regular basis and even match them stride for stride, if not surpass.
Yet, for all the potential he possessed, he certainly goes down as one of those cricketers that just couldn’t do justice to his talent. And that verdict might not change, even if one looked at it through 3-D glasses.
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