Ambati Rayudu – Making up for lost time

Author : Sougat Chakravartty
Ambati Rayudu - Finally fulfilling his true potential

Ambati Rayudu – Finally fulfilling his true potential

There are so many similarities between Ambati Thirupathi Rayudu and an average person who has been left behind by his peers in the race for success and a comfortable life.

Both these individuals have seen the harsher side of life, the impact of the questionable wisdom of their early life decisions and the subsequent misery that enveloped their entire existence.

But there is one more thing in common between the Hyderabadi and the common man – neither is willing to give up that easily.

And like Shikhar Dhawan before him, the Mumbai Indians‘ batsman is determined to make up for lost time.

Born on September 23, 1985 in Guntur, Andhra Pradesh, Rayudu made his domestic debut for his state as a plucky 16-year-old in the 2001-02 season. The pint-sized teenager exhibited a solid technique; efficient in defence and unstoppable in attack, he did enough to impress the national selectors – they chose him to lead the U-19 national squad, which made it to the semi-finals of the 2004 World Cup in Bangladesh. Everyone felt it was only a matter of time before the youngster would receive an international call-up and get to play with the ‘big boys’ of world cricket.

Then came the twist of fate. Contemporaries such as Irfan Pathan, Robin Uthappa, Suresh Raina and Dinesh Karthik graduated to the senior side, while their former skipper ploughed a lonely furrow in the dust bowl-like fields of domestic cricket. The bat, unfortunately, did not register as many runs as Rayudu would have liked.

His tiffs with the coach of the Hyderabad team and a lean 2004-05 season prompted a move to the Andhra Ranji squad. He had hoped that a change of scene would do his confidence a world of good and lead to an improvement in his struggles to make runs.

It didn’t work; he fared even worse. He simply couldn’t get his game right, often playing too early without moving his feet or succumbing to the pressure of scoring quick runs. The persistent ignoring from the national selectors also weighed heavily on his mind – he was growing desperate for a chance to rub shoulders with international greats. His former U-19 teammates had been on tours abroad, and the feeling of missing out on gaining such invaluable experience played on his mind.

Adding to his cup of woes, his off-field indiscretions were rising to alarming proportions. After returning to the Hyderabad team, following an unsuccessful season with Andhra, he was involved in a fracas with teammate and Deccan Chargers player Arjun Yadav – son of former India player Shivlal; Rayudu was attacked with stumps by Arjun after the latter was dismissed in a game.

With each season, the Guntur lad’s hopes of breaking into the senior national team looked bleak. At 22, he made yet another bad move – he signed up for the rebel Indian Cricket League (ICL), along with six more players from Hyderabad. This surprised the BCCI, who had long touted him as the next great batting hope of the country.

It reacted swiftly – handing Rayudu and his six rebel ‘partners’ bans from all domestic cricket, and dropped him from the state team.

Rayudu was shocked, but unfazed. He went on to play for the Hyderabad Heroes and achieved his long-cherished team of playing alongside international stars such as Chris Harris, Nicky Boje and Justin Kemp, helping to steer them to the Edelweiss 20s Challenge title in 2008.

He regained his old form and began to re-invent himself as a quick run-scorer. The ICL eventually folded, and the BCCI’s ‘amnesty’ offer allowed the Andhra player to return to mainstream cricket in 2009.

Ambati Rayudu finally made his International debut against Zimbabwe

Ambati Rayudu finally made his International debut against Zimbabwe

The 2010 IPL provided him with the perfect opportunity to showcase his skills on a grand scale. Playing in the middle-order and also donning the big gloves occasionally behind the stumps, his consistent performances won him praise from many quarters. He went one better in the next season, finishing behind the legendary Sachin Tendulkar as the team’s leading run-scorer.

Harbhajan Singh, who played alongside the youngster, was so impressed that he went on record to state that Rayudu was a special talent who deserves a spot in the Indian team.

Former India player Robin Singh is the one person whom Rayudu credits for helping turn his career around, after a roller-coaster ride in 2009. He worked on improving his fitness, sprinted hard between the wickets and put in the long yards during fielding practice.

The results showed in the 2011 edition of the IPL – he landed the winning hit against the Kolkata Knight Riders off the final ball to cap a come-from-behind win for his side, playing Javed Miandad to Lakshmipathy Balaji’s Chetan Sharma in that game.

He moved to Baroda in the 2010-11 season, working under new coach Sanath Kumar, and translated his IPL form into substantial scores in domestic cricket, a double century being one of the high points in that season. In between, he also deputized behind the stumps, further honing his skills. Things were going well for him game-wise.

But the feeling of making his international debut lingered. This time around, though, he responded to it in a different way – he kept on piling runs in the Irani Trophy and further seasons in Ranji & IPL cricket, respectively. In the MI squad, Rayudu’s role reminded one of Rahul Dravid in the early 2000s – he became a  ’floater’, batting in the top eight, while also keeping wickets at times, and coming up with scintillating knocks and brilliant displays in the field; his catch to remove Chris Gayle in the sixth edition of the IPL galvanized his side to a memorable win against the Royal Challengers.

At last, at long last, the miraculous moment arrived in the young man’s career in July this year. Skipper MS Dhoni was ruled out of the Zimbabwe tri-series with a hamstring injury, and the selectors quickly responded by drafting the Andhra lad into the national squad, resting most of the team that had won the Champions Trophy.

Finally, life had come full circle for Rayudu. He made his debut at Harare, and scored an unbeaten half-century, guiding the latter part of India’s successful run chase. He also became part of a team that swept an international series, savouring the triumph despite it coming against a rather weak side.

For a player who once blasted a magnificent century for the Indian colts against England way back in 2002, the future now holds only brighter, bigger and better things. As long as he is able to maintain consistency, Ambati Thirupathi Rayudu may well go on to a long, successful international career.

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