Ambati Rayudu’s painfully long struggle to live up to the promise he showed as a 16-year-old first-class debutant in 2001 is finally over.
The one-time ‘Next Sachin Tendulkar’, this millennium’s first big batting hope, retired from all forms of cricket Wednesday, even the IPL, after the national selectors didn’t find the 33-year-old World Cup stand-by worthy enough to replace the injured Shikhar Dhawan or even Vijay Shankar.
Gautam Gambhir, Test player-turned-MP, put the blame squarely on the selection committee. “What surprises me most is that the entire @BCCI current selection panel had an unfulfilled career themselves!!! … What a shame!!! While it’s important to win titles, guess it’s more important to have a heart,” he posted.
Heart was something that Rayudu was always known to have. He backed himself in any situation and could be trusted to counter-attack his way out of trouble. But the latest selectorial snub was too harsh a blow for the man who, in close to two decades, went from teen prodigy to wasted talent to comeback man. As one of his Ranji Trophy coaches Sanath Kumar says, “Of all the talented cricketers we have had in India, he is for sure one of the unluckiest.”
The outspoken middle-order batsman, known for his quick temper, didn’t really bang the door on the way out, though. In an email to the BCCI, he wrote: “I would like to take this opportunity to thank the BCCI and all the state associations that I have represented… It has been an honour and privilege to have represented our country.”
His final international record was nowhere near what India expected of him. In 55 ODIs, he scored 1,694 runs, including three centuries, at an average of 47.05. His score-sheet also shows 42 runs in six T20 Internationals, and 6,151 runs with 16 hundreds in 97 first-class matches for Hyderabad, Andhra, Baroda and Vidarbha.
He led India in the 2004 U-19 World Cup, a team that included Dinesh Karthik, Suresh Raina, Robin Uthappa, Irfan Pathan, R P Singh and Dhawan in its ranks. Pathan says that they all thought Rayudu would be the first to graduate to the senior team.
Rayudu’s first coach in first-class cricket, former India off-spinner Arshad Ayub, says he had the same feeling when he was Hyderabad Ranji coach in 2001-02. “He was a real talent. He had passion for cricket. He was fearless. But he needed some guidance. And I think, we created that platform for him. He did really well under my coaching. After that, when I stepped down, he had to leave Hyderabad, which was very unfortunate,” Ayub said.
But then, failure wasn’t an option for the son of a junior official at the state archives department in Hyderabad, who found it tough to raise India’s future star. The modest salary didn’t help. It is said that Rayudu’s mother would keep aside chicken pieces from the biryani for the son.
However, Rayudu had a personality issue. Those close to him blame his temper. After a couple of seasons with Hyderabad, Rayudu moved to Andhra. The reason was a rift with the former national selector and India off-spinner Shivlal Yadav who pulled the strings in Hyderabad cricket. Things turned ugly when Rayudu had an on-field clash with Shivlal’s son, Arjun Yadav.
In 2007, at the peak of his powers and on the wrong side of the cricket set-up after the spat, Rayudu joined the now-defunct rebel Indian Cricket League (ICL) before returning to the mainstream after accepting the BCCI’s amnesty offer. He went on play for Mumbai Indians and Chennai Super Kings in the IPL.
“At that particular time (when he joined the ICL), he was still very young. Maybe, somebody persuaded him. Maybe, he was a little disturbed. But he came back, made his way through and did really well. And players who are talented, they always have a short fuse. Once you mature, you handle it better. But I think he should have played for India for a longer time,” Ayub said.
Last November, Rayudu retired from first-class cricket to focus on the shorter format. And the plan seemed to be working as he made it to the India ODI team that was searching for a No. 4. Even that wasn’t easy, though — he made the cut after clearing the yo-yo fitness test on the second attempt.
Last year, his consistency had prompted India captain Virat Kohli to say India had found their No. 4 for the World Cup. However, the team ended up going with Shankar, the Tamil Nadu allrounder who was described by chief selector M S K Prasad as a “three-dimensional” cricketer. Soon enough, Rayudu posted a tweet: “Just ordered a new set of 3D glasses to watch the world cup”.
On Wednesday, Rayudu thanked the captains he had played under. “… M S Dhoni, Rohit Sharma and especially Virat Kohli who always had shown great belief in me throughout my career with the Indian team”.
And yet, an important voice from Hyderabad hinted at what was going on inside Rayudu’s mind on his last day as an active India cricketer. V V S Laxman tweeted: “Can understand the pain and anguish Ambati Rayudu may be feeling after the World Cup snub even after performing well. I wish him lots of happiness and peace in his second innings.”