Twelve seasons ago at the National Cricket Academy (NCA) a young boy, who was dreaming big, had entered the hallowed portals of the Bangalore nursery for young budding cricketers. His dream, like any other young cricketer, was to don India colours. But this boy — Ambati Rayudu was different and blessed. The art of batting exemplified aesthetics — his touch play provided joy and offered a lot of hope.
The batting nets for Rayudu were akin to a University. His precocious talent with the bat was his only way to pass from the University. He had the ingredients to succeed. The strokes had copyrights of his fluency, the technique looked compact, and the temperament was rock solid. Rayudu was in need of a stage to perform his mesmerizing acts.
In 2002, Rayudu, opening the batting for India colts blazed a colossal 177 against England Under-19. The media heralded him as the best young batsman of the country. Everybody was convinced that Rayudu would play for the country, the only question was when? He was still hailed as a precocious talent and even led an Indian Under-19 team to the World Cup in 2004 where he led Suresh Raina, Dinesh Karthik, RP Singh and Shikhar Dhawan. But there came a point where his temperament overshadowed his talent.
He had issues with the Hyderabad coach in 2004 and he moved to Andhra Pradesh the following season. In 2005 he was embroiled in an ugly controversy with Arjun Yadav. There was a fight between the two. His hot-headed nature was in focus. That went against him in a big way. All that promise which Rayudu had shown since his young days was a thing of past.
Unfortunately Rayudu was lost in wilderness. He joined the Indian Cricket League (ICL) in 2007 and rubbed shoulders with international stars. His international aspirations were put on hold until 2009 when he accepted BCCI’s amnesty offer.
The biggest breakthrough in Rayudu’s cricketing career came when he shot into limelight playing for the Mumbai Indians in 2010. He got to rub shoulders with one of the greats of the game — Sachin Tendulkar and the world was amazed to see the talent in Rayudu. He had the chutzpah to attack the best of the bowlers. The batting had a lot of class and soon he became an important member of the star-studded Mumbai Indians team.
Now, on the sheer weight of his runs, he is in the news. He has lost a lot of ground due to various issues (Read non-cricketing). But there is still the languid movement when Rayudu drives the ball. There is still the relentless pursuit to hit the ball in the middle of the bat. He has the rare gift of timing. He was just born with it.
The selection to the tour of West Indies might give Rayudu a chance to seek redemption. He might not immediately play in the team because of performing, star-studded middle-order. But, an India stint will surely boost his morale. Life seldom gives people second chances.
Rayudu has earned his selection because there was still fire in his belly and a dream to play for India never dithered. He still has the gleam in his eye. Hope Rayudu gets the due he deserves. Better late than never!
(Sarang Bhalerao hails from a family of doctors, but did his engineering. He then dumped a career in IT with Infosys to follow his heart and passion and became a writer with CricketCountry. A voracious reader, Sarang aspires to beat Google with his knowledge of the game! You can follow him on Twitter here)