With the retirement of the peerless Sachin Tendulkar, Indian cricket is now at the threshold of a transition phase. It is a great opportunity for many of those who have warmed the benches for long, waiting for their moment in the sun.
The South African tour offers plenty of chances for the new faces to make their mark. Just like human resource professionals who try to find a fitting role for a prospective employee, the newbies will also have to go through a similar process (read: the captain’s scheme of things).
Mumbai Indians’ middle-order star Ambati Rayudu is one of the latest entrants in the squad. At 28, he may be a bit on the older side, but it is not really his fault. He has been on the fringes for too long, and it is high time he deserves a break in the longer format. Clashes with the sporting establishment, a foray into the now-defunct Indian Cricket League and a few other missteps have pegged him back, but each time, he has risen above all of them and come back stronger than before.
It took the point-blank, no-frills advice from Sachin to get the Andhra Pradesh player’s mind back on track. He had been written off as a washed-out, temperamental freak who could never utilize his talents to the full. In addition, he had even got into a physical encounter with a Hyderabad teammate, and had just accepted the amnesty offer from the BCCI.
The move to the Mumbai Indians camp and a subsequent transfer to Baroda for the Ranji Trophy seem to have worked wonders. Not only did he get to play with his childhood hero, but also began to focus on his game much more intensely. Cutting out all the flashy strokes, Rayudu adapted his game according to the situation, and promptly returned to winning ways.
And this time around, he was determined to make it count. IPL performances translated into a call-up to the ODI side for the Zimbabwe tour, where he made his first international half-century.
A Test call-up shortly thereafter proves that the enfant terrible of Hyderabad has indeed matured a lot.
Rayudu is one of those compact batsmen who can attack and graft for runs when needed. Though I have my reservations about his defensive technique, he is an excellent stroke-player and very innovative. He can don the role of a floater if required. When quick runs are needed, the Guntur cricketer will be a key asset since he can unfurl the big shots almost at will.
He is also blessed with immaculate hand-eye coordination, and in his younger days, he could pick the length of the ball from the bowler’s hand earlier than anyone else. He still has both gifts, but has tempered them with a calmer approach, and it has made him a much more formidable adversary for the bowlers.
An athletic outfielder and a handy wicket-keeper as well, Rayudu provides an additional on-field option (if he makes it to the playing XI) to take over the big gloves if Dhoni is injured or needs a break.
It won’t be easy for him, though. With the likes of Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma staking their claims in the middle-order, Rayudu may not even get a look-in. He also has to contend with the equally talented Ajinkya Rahane, and consistency is the only way he can put the Mumbai batsman in the shade. Wriddhiman Saha, too, is yet another candidate in the fray.
All said and done, I would prefer to see the Guntur native in the field against the Proteas. It will be his real litmus test.