Prodigy, rebel or 3D glasses – What defines Ambati Rayudu’s career?

With 177 off 114 balls against England U-19 at the County Ground, Taunton, Ambati Rayudu, the then 16-year-old in 2002, made headlines as India U-19 swept the youth ODI series 3-0. He was called a prodigy then.

Fast forward 17 years – and as the 33-year-old announced his retirement from international cricket and the Indian Premier League, after stepping aside from first-class cricket in November last year, no one really remembers that talented Hyderbadi of the early 2000s, but what comes to mind instead is the temperamental batsman’s tumultuous career which may as well be defined by a tweet.

In this digital age, where social media clutter garners mainstream importance, it is fairly easily to push over the remarkable career arc of Rayudu as a mere footnote and project the ‘ill-fated’ tweet – that was the result of his own temperamental attitude – as the highlight of his career. ALSO READ: Ambati Rayudu’s dig at MSK Prasad after losing spot to Vijay Shankar

 

 

Rayudu had all the tools to be India’s next big thing when he started out. Man of the Series in the Asian Cricket Council U-15 tournament in 2000, a regular India A player in 2002-03 and captaining the U-19 Indian team for the U-19 World Cup the next year (the colts made it to the semi-finals)

Having made his Ranji Trophy debut in 2002, he would went on to smack a double century and a century in a single match against Andhra, while playing for Hyderabad and finished the season with 698 runs in the Ranji Trophy. An India A call came soon enough and it looked Rayudu was set for senior debut in the near future. ALSO READ: Ambati Rayudu announces retirement from all forms of cricket

The likes of Shikhar Dhawan, Suresh Raina, Robin Uthappa, Dinesh Karthik, RP Singh, VRV Singh – Rayudu’s U19 batchmates –  too were knocking the doors, but it was Rayudu whose chances were the brightest.

Shikhar Dhawan, Dinesh Karthik, Suresh (L to R) during 2004 under-19 World Cup (Getty Image)

But, back home, he was at loggerheads with the authorities. He moved from Hyderabad Ranji team to Andhra after having differences with the then coach Rajesh Yadav in 2005 and next year he was involved in a public spat with Hyderabad teammate Arjun Yadav, that saw the latter chasing Rayudu with a stump.

It is no coincidence that Rayudu’s form also dipped during that phase with him averaging just 11.92 in 2004-05, 35.11 in 2005-06 in the first-class seasons.  And maybe it was that dip in form that came out as his frustration on others and made him a problem child.

Rayudu’s image was further dented when he was banned for joining the Indian Cricket League in 2007. During that three-year ban, his batchmates from that 2004 U-19 WC squad had made their mark, and his name was soon forgotten.

Ambati Rayudu (3L) with other Hyderabad players who signed with ICL in 2007 (Getty Images)

Karthik’s international debut came in 2004, Raina’s in 2005, Uthappa, RP and VRV’s in 2006, while Dhawan had to wait till 2010. But Rayudu couldn’t, and that cost him dearly. By the time the Delhi opener made his India debut, Rayudu was reviving his fledging career – by taking the BCCI amnesty.

Rayudu was way behind now. The next two batches of the U-19 too had overtaken him with the likes of Piyush Chawla – from the 2006 batch – making his India debut the same year and Rohit Sharma the next. From 2008 batch, Virat Kohli made his India debut in 2008 and Ravindra Jadeja in 2009.

The notable name here is Kohli, who, similar to Rayudu, was primed for the middle-order spot and fair to say, rest is history.

Ambati Rayudu in IPL playing for Mumbai Indians

But the talent of Rayudu was still there, unfortunately, it was accompanied by that mercurial temperament, resultant from his perception of being wronged by the higher powers and he battled both. Soon after his return, he was dropped from his state side, Hyderabad, after the 2010-11 Ranji season. He went to Baroda and piled on the runs. Mumbai Indians came calling and Rayudu’s name came back in to public conscience. He racked up the average of 56.60, 42.50, 72.75, 49.33 from 2010-11 to 2013-14 first class seasons, along with stellar performances for India A. But, alongside his on-field spats too made the news. His India debut in 2013 saw him score 63 against Zimbabwe and eventually was named in India’s 2015 Cricket World Cup squad, but didn’t get a game.

All was good in the batting front for Rayudu – that is, until 2017.

Agitated Ambati Rayudu during India A’s tour of Australia (Getty Image)

He failed the yo-yo Test and had to withdraw from India’s ODI squad set to take on England. In 2018, he was handed two-match ban for a heated argument with the umpire and an ugly spat with Karnataka’s Vinay Kumar in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy. With the No.4 debate raging, Rayudu lost form. Even though team management called him their designated No.4 for 2019 World Cup.

Then he was called for a suspect bowling action in 2019 and soon fell out of favour and lost his position. And, the final nail in the coffin – that tweet.

Frustrations returned and boiled over; at 33, with 50 ODIs to his name and an average of 47.05 – the fourth best among Indian players with minimum 20 innings – behind only Kohli, MS Dhoni and Rohit Sharma he had had enough.

A seething end to a stormy career.