Ambati Rayudu has retired from the long-form, including the Ranji Trophy, to focus on limited-overs cricket. With virtually no chance of playing Test cricket, Rayudu has decided to hang up his ‘first-class’ boots. At 33 years of age, the decision might help him prolong his white-ball career, especially now that he is back to the Indian ODI fold and fresh from a hundred against West Indies, batting at No. 4.
Rayudu was supposed to join the Hyderabad Ranji team from the second round of matches. But on Saturday, in a letter to the Hyderabad Cricket Association (HCA), he announced his retirement from first-class cricket. “I will continue to play international and domestic matches of the shorter version. And, I take this opportunity to thank the BCCI, HCA, Baroda Cricket Association and also Vidarbha Cricket Association for giving me the opportunities over the years,” he wrote in his letter.
Rayudu’s first-class career spanned 17 years after he made his debut as a 16-year-old during the 2001-02 season. He scored 6,151 runs in 97 matches including 16 hundreds. It had been a topsy-turvy journey for the middle-order batsman. He fell out with the Hyderabad Cricket hierarchy and moved to Andhra. He also turned up for Baroda and Vidarbha before returning to his home state. The Ranji Trophy match against Assam last year turned out to be his final first-class outing. He made 83 and 52 not out in Hyderabad’s four-wicket win.
Rayudu came close to playing Test cricket during the 2013-14 season, when he was part of the Test squad. But he didn’t get a game and was eventually dropped from the side. The now-defunct Indian Cricket League (ICL) misjudgement, which he joined in 2007 and lost two very promising years to the rebel league, didn’t help either.
In 2009, the BCCI granted amnesty to 79 Indian players in the ICL, which helped Rayudu return to mainstream. He made his ODI debut four years later. “It has always been an honour to play for Hyderabad and I can never forget the kind of support I got from all those here, including my fellow players, coaches and the officials. And especially, the way I was welcomed back into the BCCI fold after the stint in the rebel ICL,” Rayudu said in his letter. After making his ODI debut in 2013, he became an India regular in white-ball cricket before losing his form and place after the Zimbabwe tour in 2016. A fantastic IPL for Chennai Super Kings this year, where he scored 602 runs in 16 matches in CSK’s title-winning campaign, earned him a recall to the Indian ODI squad for the series in England. But Rayudu failed the yo-yo tests and had to wait till the Asia Cup in UAE in September to play for India again.
He put in a decent performance, scoring 175 runs in six matches at 43.75. During the recently concluded ODI series against West Indies, his batting was impressive enough – 217 runs in four innings at 72.33, including a hundred and a fifty – for Virat Kohli to back him for the unsettled No. 4 spot. Maybe, Kohli’s confidence in him has prompted Rayudu to concentrate solely on the shorter format, with the World Cup just eight months away. The three ODIs in Australia followed by five ODIs in New Zealand in January-February next year would be Rayudu’s real audition for the World Cup. Little wonder then that he has picked the short-form, at the expense of the Ranji Trophy, because domestic first-class cricket no longer holds any Test future for him.