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Not 3-d enough: Ambati Rayudu, the tale of a career that could have been

India's Ambati Rayudu

Ambati Rayudu may seem like a grumpy man, never shy of an argument or two, but that is actually his defence mechanism.

A mechanism built to stomach rejection after rejection, following years of toil. Many-a-player with half of his calibre have been backed at the international stage and have had a decent run, but Rayudu has borne a raw deal. With proper guidance, the skilful cricketer could have done wonders.

One of the most bizarre explanations, that you will ever hear for a cricketer, or any sports person for that matter, not being selected in a team, is that he or she is not 3-d (three-dimensional) enough. Such has been the fate of one of India's most talented prodigies Ambati Rayudu.

Rayudu led the Indian Under-19 team which made it to the semi-finals of the 2004 Under-19 World Cup. A team which had no dearth of talent with the likes of Shikhar Dhawan, Robin Uthappa, Suresh Raina, Dinesh Karthik and RP Singh.

"I thought Rayudu would be the first one to play for India from the U-19 batch in 2000-02,” recalls Irfan Pathan, who went on to become a big name in Indian cricket.

Marred by a fickle temper and disagreeable terms with the management, Rayudu failed to get the impetus towards the early part of his career, as opposed to many of his Under-19 teammates. The Hyderabad cricketer then became a part of the rebel league, ICL which pulled his career backwards. Following BCCI's amnesty, Rayudu was one of the top contenders for a middle-order spot ahead of the 2015 World Cup, boasting an average of over 50, but as destiny would have it, he just missed the bus for Australia.

The soft-spoken cricketer made an inspired return to international cricket on the back of a stellar IPL 2018 season in which he smashed 602 runs, ending as the fourth-highest run-scorer. Post a fighting hundred against New Zealand at home, Virat Kohli couldn't stop showering praise over the Hyderabad batsman. “Rayudu,” he said, “is designed to play the middle-order batsman's role.”

The right-hander, swooning over the proclamation, announced his retirement from first-class cricket. However, following India’s overseas Test jaunt of South Africa, England and Australia, Rayudu’s form began to desert him. After slim returns in the series against Australia and New Zealand and a poor IPL 2019 thereafter, Rayudu was unceremoniously side-lined from India’s 15-member World Cup squad.

The 33-year-old took a dig at the selection committee, shooting a tweet that did not go down well with the management.

Nevertheless, Rayudu was among the five standby players outlined by the selectors for the showpiece event and must have been hopeful of his chances. The chances did come, except they did not land in Rayudu's lap. Rishabh Pant was called up as the replacement of Shikhar Dhawan, following an injury to the southpaw. However, when Vijay Shankar got injured, it was widely anticipated that Rayudu would get a look in at Shankar’s place as both were originally vying for the same spot. One can only imagine the heartbreak that Rayudu would have suffered when Mayank Agarwal was announced as Shankar’s replacement instead.

“He is a very, very competitive guy, very aggressive. He never could control his emotions. He would allow things to affect him," says Rayudu’s former Ranji Trophy coach Vivek Jaisimha. With every evidence to suggest otherwise, one can only hope that Rayudu did not take an emotional call while calling it quits.

Retirement is something which is a very personal decision for every sportsperson and comes to you at the right time. The talented batsman would be unfair to himself more than anything else if he has opted out of professional cricket in a fit of rage.

By walking away from cricket, when he clearly has a good three-four years left in him, Rayudu is not only doing a disservice to the talent he possesses but to himself. He is just 33 years old and still had time to have a shot at the national team. It won’t have been easy by any stretch but the batsman deserved to allow himself a go at that.

As per his mail to BCCI, he has announced retirement from all forms of cricket, including the IPL, but hopefully, once the nerves settle and the brain takes control of the heart, he will at least continue plying his trade in the country's premier T20 league.

One of the most talked-about mantras to succeed is being present at the right place, at the right time. Rayudu, on the contrary, has been present at the wrong place, at the wrong time more often than not. He has scored runs and truckloads of them, but not at the most opportune times.

It is understandable that there is a lot of angst and acrimony deep down inside him for not being able to realise the boundless potential that he was blessed with. One can only wish that the next chapter of his life starts on a much more welcoming note.

©Cricket World 2019