Ambati Rayudu is Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s contemporary in Indian cricket. He made his debut in first-class cricket in 2001-02, only a season after Dhoni had made the grade in domestic circuit. While the latter went on to have a high-flying career, Rayudu’s journey has been a roller-coaster with more lows than the highs. But his return to the Team India fold is a testament to his longevity and tenacity. Rayudu credits Dhoni for the resurrection. Bereft of the coaching staff, the former captain, at the moment, was doubling up as player-cum-coach during India’s practice at the ICC academy on Saturday. Batsmen and bowlers were lining up for his advice.
“He (Dhoni) has been India’s captain and always been the go-to man for everybody in the team (Chennai Super Kings). He has helped me a lot in terms of how I recovered this season,” Rayudu said here on Saturday. CSK’s bid of Rs 2.2 crore for Rayudu for this year’s IPL had raised a few eyebrows. The middle-order batsman had last played for India in 2016. Mumbai Indians decided to offload him. The 32-year-old responded with 602 runs in 16 matches in CSK’s title-winning campaign. It prompted the national selectors to pick him for the ODIs in England. Rayudu failed the yo-yo tests and was replaced by Suresh Raina.
“Obviously it was frustrating to miss out on the England tour. But I’m happy that I can come back and give the test and get picked to play in the Asia Cup,” Rayudu chose not to hark back. But did he expect a recall? “This year I played well in the IPL. The main thing is that I feel age doesn’t matter as long as you are fit.” After clearing the yo-yo tests at the second attempt, Rayudu played for India A in the Tri-Series involving Australia A and South Africa A. He made an instant impact. His 62 not out against Australia A in a low-scoring affair in Bangalore turned out to be a Man-of-the-Match performance. Against South Africa A at Alur, he made 66. With less than a year to go for the World Cup, Rayudu’s return to the fold, and also Dinesh Karthik’s comeback this season, however, attests India’s middle-order uncertainties. He is the latest batsman to be part of the experiment process. With England hosting next year’s showpiece, Ajinkya Rahane could have been India’s best bet to offer stability. But the Mumbai batsman has lost his place in the Indian limited-overs squads, with inconsistency being a reason.
Raina didn’t inspire confidence in England and Manish Pandey, who is part of the Asia Cup squad, has failed to build on his start — a match-winning 104 not out against Australia at the SCG in January 2016 — in international cricket. The Karnataka batsman, however, has been in cracking form of late, scoring an unbeaten hundred and a couple of half-centuries for India B in the recently concluded Quadrangular Series. From that perspective, if Rayudu manages to settle down, the team will have an option in their journey towards the World Cup. Rayudu, though, refused to put pressure on himself.
“To be very honest, (I) haven’t thought about it (middle-order conundrum) or looked at it as a competition. It’s just an opportunity to express myself and (I) don’t want to put more pressure to my game by thinking about these,” he said, adding: “I don’t think anybody is actually thinking about the World Cup. We are in for the Asia Cup and I don’t think anybody is thinking about it (World Cup) right now.” India’s opening match in the Asia Cup is against Hong Kong on September 18. A little weird that they will play another 50-over game, against Pakistan, next day. But Rayudu didn’t look too concerned. “I don’t think it will be a disadvantage. It will be definitely tough and I’m sure we will do best possible things to recover and go out fresh to play the next game.”
Meanwhile, the BCCI has ensured that India will play their matches in Dubai and will not travel to Abu Dhabi for the Super Four stage.