Rayudu feeds off IPL highs
Ambati Rayudu hails from Hyderabad and represents the franchise from Mumbai. But there's something about the team from Bangalore that ensures Rayudu is in the headlines when playing against them.
In 2011, his match-winning, unbroken partnership of 110 with Sachin Tendulkar against Royal Challengers Bangalore was followed by the master batsman asking Rayudu to join him at the presentation ceremony to share the Man of the Match award. Last year, his ugly spat with Royal Challengers' Harshal Patel resulted in Rayudu being fined his entire match fee for the game.
This year, again, Rayudu, the only regular without an international cap in the Mumbai Indians' star-studded line-up, was in the thick of the action during Mumbai Indians' high-profile duel with Royal Challengers. If his controversial run-out, which resulted in the Wankhede Stadium crowd booing Royal Challengers captain Virat Kohli all through the night, wasn't enough, Rayudu waited and waited with his breath held before latching on to a skier from Chris Gayle just a few inches inside the boundary rope. It may not have looked as spectacular as some of the other catches so far in IPL 2013, but in terms of its impact on the game Rayudu's catch was right up there at the top. No wonder then that as soon he had regained his balance after completing the catch, he burst into a wild, celebratory sprint. The catch turned out to be the catalyst for Mumbai Indians' mauling of Royal Challengers.
If one has to draw up a list of domestic cricketers for whom the IPL has turned out to be more of a boon than bane, Rayudu would feature at the top. His fall was as sharp as his rise as the next big thing in batting from the stables of Hyderabad. He went from being the most promising youngster around in 2002, to being discarded by both the domestic teams from the state by 2007, and joined the Indian Cricket League. And then came the IPL. Once Rayudu returned to the BCCI's fold following 'amnesty' in 2009, he was signed by Mumbai Indians, then led by Tendulkar and coached by Robin Singh, both of whom rated him highly despite the middle-order batman failing to make optimal use of his phenomenal talent on the field. A decent debut IPL season in 2010 was followed by a better one: in 2011 he finished Mumbai Indians' second-highest run-getter after Tendulkar.
"IPL definitely worked for him in many ways. Once he started performing well against the international players and in front of big crowds, it made him really confident," Sanath Kumar, who has been the coach of Baroda - Rayudu's domestic team - for the last two seasons, said. "That is when he started believing all over again that he can come back and play for the country. During our numerous conversations, he always says 'money will come and go sir, but representing the country is the main goal'. I am sure he is not very far from achieving the goal since he has been doing all the things right."
Once his confidence was restored, it reflected in his performances for Baroda. He gained in consistency, something that he had badly lacked for almost a decade prior to that. This ensured he became a permanent fixture in the India A squad over the last two years. And the big dream of the boy who had led India's Under-19 World Cup team in 2004 was achieved ahead of last year's twin Twenty20s against England, when he was named in India's squad. Rayudu might not have played in the series, but the call-up rubberstamped the fact that he had risen to the top again after his falling away.
Two years ago, during an interaction with this writer, Rayudu had mentioned Robin Singh was one of those people who stood behind him like a rock, even during his difficult days. "Robin has been the one who has been guiding me all these years," Rayudu said. "He has been telling me to spend time in the middle. 'You will eventually make many runs and you will personally be surprised with the runs that you get' he says." Now that backing is paying off for Mumbai Indians.
Over the past four IPLs, Rayudu has played a role similar to what Rahul Dravid did for India's ODI side a decade ago. From an opener to No. 8, he has been floated all across the line-up. He has also donned the gloves when the team was struggling to find a batsman-wicketkeeper.
During this year's edition, his role has changed again. The gloves are off but Rayudu is being utilised more at No. 6 with a decision being taken to use Kieron Pollard ahead of him. He didn't seem to take much time to get adapted to his new role of a finisher, as his cameo against Delhi Daredevils showed - that was the first game in which he was slotted in at No. 6 this season.
Rayudu has not really surprised himself with his performances, but he certainly has forced quite a few of those who had written him off earlier to have a rethink.
Amol Karhadkar is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo