“In a cricketer’s life, there are more bad days than good, and it all depends on how bad the days were, and how good he made them look.”
On Wednesday, India’s middle-order batsman, Ambati Rayudu announced his retirement from all forms of cricket, two months after being left out from 2019 World Cup squad. With another sad end to what could have been a remarkable journey, it leaves us asking, how and why did Ambati Rayudu fail to secure a spot in India’s World Cup squad?
How did someone who, only six months ago India skipper Virat Kohli said had put an end to the never-ending ‘hunt’ for the number four batsman?
How did Rayudu, who was kept as a reserve for World Cup was overlooked twice?
Interestingly, if you purely go by the numbers, then Rayudu is the fourth highest run-getter for India since marking a return to the dressing room during the Asia Cup last September.
The first three batsmen are known to everyone – Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, and Shikhar Dhawan – who considerably have played most deliveries for India in the past year and a half, and helped India to be in a position where cricket pundits remark India as one of the strongest batting sides in the world.
With Rayudu coming at four, the Indian team, from a distance was looking strong to upstage any opposition. Interestingly, between then and the home series against Australia earlier this year, Rayudu was part of the playing XI on 21 occasions out of 24 encounters that India played, scoring one century and four fifties.
Rayudu’s dominance in the south Asian region made him look different from earlier faces India tried.
Right from the start of West Indies series when India overlooked Manish Pandey and Shreyas Iyer to fit Rayudu into the squad – the class was there. His ability to play according to the conditions and capitalize on the starts made him look different and a ‘firm favorite’ for much-talked batting position.
Everything was going well for Ambati Rayudu.
Runs were flowing, the team was backing, selectors were on his side, and he was performing decently. But then, all of a sudden, Hardik Pandya and KL Rahul were suspended from the tour and were asked to come back from Australia tour with immediate effect. Vijay Shankar and Shubman Gill were the replacement announced by the BCCI for the series.
In Hardik Pandya’s absence, the team tried Vijay Shankar for that position and he was able to grab it with both hands. His consistent performance led him to feature in the squad even in the presence of Hardik Pandya. With two seaming all-rounders in the squad, team India’s squad started to look more balanced.
Ambati Rayudu, on the other hand, continued to feature in India’s playing XI in the series against Australia and New Zealand.
During his overseas stint, he managed to play a superlative knock against New Zealand when he smashed 90 runs in the final ODI. On that tour, almost everybody else struggled to get runs under their belt and Rayudu stood strong to play one heck of an innings.
He ended the New Zealand series on high, which made him feature in India’s last home series before the World Cup against Australia, where he managed to score just 33 runs in the three games he played. And all of a sudden, his selection for the World Cup surrounded more questions than one thought at that stage.
India dropped him from the playing XI and tried Vijay Shankar at number four, who once again grabbed his opportunity and scored some important runs and bowled well.
At the end of the series, on March 13, Virat Kohli was asked whether the performances in Indian Premier League affect the selection chances for the World Cup, he said, “No, I don’t see the IPL having any influence on World Cup selection. I think that will be a very, very radical sort of analysis.”
But seeing it from a realistic point of view, one has to accept, that it did. In the case of Vijay Shankar and Ambati Rayudu, what made the selectors go with former over latter?
Yes, either option stands strong each time he scores big or the other fails. And now that IPL 2019 league stage is over, who has nudged ahead of the other in this little competition? Well, both Shankar and Rayudu finished with identical batting numbers at the end of their respective 14 matches in the league stage.
Both Rayudu and Shankar have finished with a tally of 219 innings with a similar average of 19.90. However, Shankar played an innings less, while holding a stronger strike rate of 120.32. And on the other hand, Rayudu scored a half-century – a match-winning 57 against Rajasthan Royals in Jaipur on April 11.
“It’s not anything that went against him,” BCCI chief selector MSK Prasad had said on Ambati Rayudu’s absence from the 15-member India squad for the World Cup, which happened during IPL stint.
“After the Champions Trophy in 2017, we tried quite a few people in that position. We did give a few more chances to Rayudu. Vijay Shankar is three dimensional. We are looking at him at No. 4, to begin with,” Prasad had said.
One can also say that Rayudu was perhaps a bit unlucky as he didn’t get the appropriate opportunities which he needed to solidify his position in the Indian team. Also, in the opportunities he got and played well, one can only say, that it failed to catch the limelight. It failed to get attention.
His failures in the International arena overshadowed his good days.
It is difficult to gulp the thought of how someone who called it a day to his domestic career to concentrate on white ball cricket failed to make it to the biggest stage in world cricket.
It is difficult to swallow how even after getting a sense of assurance from the team management and Kohli, the potential number four batsman was ‘dropped’ from the final squad.
Ambati Rayudu is bound to feel disappointed and more so after it was revealed that the selectors had no role in this decision and it was solely the team management, including Kohli and coach Ravi Shastri, who took the decision of calling Mayank for Shankar.
In the end, his inspiring career didn’t end on a satisfying note and deserved a better ending. But as they say, “we write our own story”. Probably, with patchy form in last International series and IPL, along with low confidence and outspoken behavior, Ambati Rayudu failed to catch the last train.