June 22, 2003

Rayudu gets ready to step up to the big league

When you first meet Ambati Rayudu, you can scarcely believe that he's the person who got so many rave reviews in his first full season of domestic cricket. The last thing you expect, even for someone who will only turn 18 this September, is a slip of a kid. And there's an unease about him which suggests that media management classes haven't yet begun - just as well because his answers resonate with an earnestness that is light years removed from the manufactured b£"& you're usually served up on these occasions.

Rayudu is used to the NCA ambience, having spent three sessions there over the past three years. He speaks quietly and earnestly about how it has benefited him, about the confidence that he has gained as a result. "The coaches let you play your natural game," he says, "and even when they correct you, it's more an observation. You're taught to study your own game, and analyse its strengths and weaknesses."

He is the youngest member of the A team heading for England, yet you'd more likely find blood oozing out of stone than you would any trace of nervousness in his demeanour. "It's a pretty long tour," he says, "about 45 days." He has good memories of time spent in England last year, especially the remarkable 177 he scored to win a game for the U-19s against their English counterparts. "It's probably the best country to play cricket in," he says, with no preamble or explanation.

And what of his team-mates? Does the fact that he's the babe of the team worry him at all? "Oh no, I haven't even thought of that," he tells you. There's a barely-suppressed confidence about him that brings back memories of Sachin Tendulkar at a similar age, also a hint that he would rather be anywhere but here, answering questions.

Rayudu was guided into cricket by his father, who made sure his son went for coaching classes almost as soon as he could grip a bat properly. He realised that he had a real aptitude for the game when he was around 12 or 13, though he insists he has never put pressure on himself to achieve targets. What about a place in the Indian senior side someday soon? "I don't think of those things," he tells you solemnly. "I just want to bat as well as I can. I'm not going to worry about the rest."

Having witnessed his composure and shot selection in the nets earlier, you have to admit that it's a wise policy. And a voice in your ear tells you he won't have to wait, or worry, inordinately long for that senior call-up.