Rewind to 2002. A 16-year-old was facing the best U-19 squad at that time, England, and India eyed a whitewash against England in England. Chasing 303 is never easy, especially in the challenging conditions of England.
One of the openers returned for a duck, and soon, the other batsmen followed him. But there was one player fighting from the other end. While the other batsmen weren’t able to rotate the strike, this youngster scored a whopping 107 runs from 1s and 2s. He opened the innings and stayed not out till the last wicket to finish the chase, and he closed this chase with a six, which was the icing on the cake.
This youngster scored 177* in 114 balls with 16 fours and a six.
He was Ambati Tirupati Rayudu.
The newspaper columns went crazy. They compared him to Tendulkar and Ganguly. He was hailed as ‘the next big thing’. Every Indian cricketer mentioned him in their interviews, so powerful was that innings.
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Touted as the next big hope for Indian middle-order batting, Rayudu has had the critics gushing about his scintillating strokeplay and his composure under pressure. He is sure to play for India in the near future.Espncricinfo
2 years later, he was made the captain of the Indian U19 team for the World Cup which boasted of players like Dhawan, Raina, Dinesh Karthik, RP Singh and Uthappa. He was a superb leader. The team performed exceptionally under him.
Unfortunately, he was banned for the semi-final game because of slow over-rate, where his temperament was questioned as he didn’t pay heed to the umpire’s warnings. Karthik led the Indian team in Semi-Finals and India lost. Rayudu was made a scapegoat for the loss. That was the first indication of how cruel life was going to be for him.Embed from Getty Images
He was also expected to be accelerated into the Indian national squad, he was expected to be included in the team at an early age, so that he could learn from the seniors. But that never happened.
Ambati Rayudu played consistently well for the Hyderabad Ranji team and also became the youngest player in the history of Ranji Trophy to score a double century and a century in the same match.
He soon became a regular in India A squad and did well, but a call from the Indian team always eluded him. He was never at fault, he was just unlucky. And he desperately wanted to play for his country.Embed from Getty Images
Ambati Rayudu drives a four for India A against Australia A
His popularity was however at the peak in the domestic circuit. And this didn’t go well with the Hyderabad Cricket Association, whose chief’s son was the captain of the Hyderabad Ranji Team. He had many anger issues with them. So, to avoid politics, Rayudu had to shift to the Andhra team
His hopes of donning the Blue jersey and playing against a quality opposition never seemed to come true. So he joined the rebel Indian Cricket League.
The reason he gave was:
I didn’t want to play ten years of domestic cricket and feel that I have not played any international-quality opposition. I want to play against quality opposition and it will also be telecast on TV. People will hopefully see me perform. And I want to perform for my own personal satisfaction.
He wanted people to see him perform. Such a quality cricketer wanted people to notice him. That is an extremely sad case.
Soon, BCCI banned cricketers involved in ICL and Rayudu too was banned. After the ban was revoked, he shifted base from Andhra to Baroda in Ranji for better opportunities. He then moved to Vidarbha too.
Mumbai Indians picked him for IPL. He was good in the IPL too.
Even with MI, his temper became an issue. He found himself in an ugly argument with his fellow teammate Harbhajan in the midst of the game. He also hit news for abusing his runner Saurabh Tiwary for poor running between the wickets.Embed from Getty Images
He soon made his way to the 30 probables for India’s World T20 squad in 2012. He was unlucky to miss out on the final 15.
Next year, in 2013, he finally got to debut in ODI cricket at the age of 28 against Zimbabwe. Yes, the child prodigy who was hailed the next Tendulkar made his debut against a second-string side at the age of 28. One has to feel sad for him.
He was always the replacement for an injured cricketer, a cricketer who wanted to take rest or was selected for unimportant games. Out of the 55 ODIs he played, 34 were against countries like Zimbabwe, West Indies, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Hong Kong. He never had a fixed batting position, he was a floater who filled for the player who was missing, an opener, a top-order batsman and a finisher at times.
His talent never found the recognition it deserved.
Soon, he was named in India’s squad for World Cup 2015 as a reserve wicket-keeper. Yes, he had done it all. There, he failed to get an opportunity to play a single game. It seemed that he was never lucky.
But he was consistently good for Mumbai Indians. Again, his batting position was never fixed. He also kept wickets to fit in an extra batsman and bowled in the middle to give bowlers some rest. One bad season for MI in 2017 made them release him. He didn’t make to the Indian squad for a long time too.
In 2018, he was picked for MS Dhoni’s Chennai SuperKings.Embed from Getty Images
That was a new life for him. He showed his hunger for runs. He was a revelation. Soon, he made his way to the national squad.
He was getting the much-deserved recognition.
He was performing well. Soon, India’s captain and vice-captain Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma confirmed his possibilities for World Cup. He was in great form and was in the running for the coveted ‘number four’ position.
He also retired from first-class cricket as he wanted to concentrate on making it to the World Cup squad. Kohli’s words gave him a lot of confidence.
But, luck is such a bad friend. It deserts you in the time you need it the most. His form dipped, but he still fought. He was one of the first Indian players to have been dropped because of the yo-yo test.
Misfortunes continued as his form took a further dip. In the end, he never made it to the World Cup squad, some say it was his form while the others blame his oust on a tweet. But this episode is a real heartbreaker.
He deserved a lot, but never got the recognition. Look at his stats:
A majority of his games are against weaker sides. The few games he got against Australia, England, New Zealand and Pakistan were away games which are tougher to play. Had he been given more chances like Dhawan or Rahul, he certainly would have turned things around.
The World Cup snub might have been the end of his international career. He tried his best to make it, be never succeeded. Even Suresh Raina recently voiced his opinion that India had better chances to win if Rayudu was picked in the World Cup squad.
You may or may not like Ambati Rayudu, but you should definitely feel for him. He is definitely one of the most unfortunate cricketers of our time.
Featured Image: Ambati Rayudu | Twitter
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