Rayudu serves Bangalore notice
It was impossible to wipe the grin off Ambati Rayudu's face. Even a tasteless question that involved the word 'blast' was answered with a smile. In a week of IT raids, ego clashes and scandal, it's been easy to forget just what the IPL can mean to a young player with dreams of making it big. Rayudu was singled out for the big stage nearly a decade ago, but as with many young prodigies, he couldn't quite deal with the pressure of expectation, his own and others'. Now, after the wilderness years, opportunity knocks once again.
This time though, he won't let factors beyond his control affect how he goes about his cricket. "I'm just enjoying playing the IPL," he said, flat-batting comparisons with his ICL stint. As for the confidence he'll take with him back to domestic cricket, he won't overstate that either.
"It's a different format," he says quietly.
What these five weeks have done is allow players like Rayudu to soak up as much as they can from some of the greats of the game. When asked what he had gained most from sharing a dressing room with the likes of Sachin Tendulkar and Sanath Jayasuriya, he said: "They make sure that everyone has a positive frame of mind. They keep it that way."
Listening to him speak and smile right through, it was hard to imagine that there had been two low-intensity explosions before the game, one just outside the ground, and that another bomb had been defused while he was out in the middle. "We were not much aware of what had happened," he said.
"The security guys just asked us to come to the dressing room. We were still pretty focused on what we needed to do."
That focus was the most admirable aspect of the Mumbai Indians' performance. Despite having clinched qualification two games ago, there has been no coasting, no letting up in intensity. The Royal Challengers, who have at times looked the team most likely to challenge the Indians' dominance, were thrashed out of sight. Unlike the Delhi Daredevils, who relaxed after clinching a last-four place in South Africa and were then deservedly dumped out, Tendulkar's side treats every game with the seriousness that the fans deserve.
"We were totally outplayed in all three departments," said Anil Kumble, whose happiness at a home semi-final would have been diluted by the manner of his side's capitulation. There were no excuses either. "It hampered our preparation," he said, when asked about the blast, "but it was the same for both teams. We were given assurances and we just had to wait till they let us know that things were okay."
He was visibly irritated at suggestions that the foreign contingent might have been reluctant to take the field, and insisted that Bangalore was as safe a venue as any other. "All these things are a part of life now," he said grimly. "It could happen outside your house."
Kumble spoke of how Bangalore had conceded perhaps 25 runs too many after a bright start with the ball, and of how the dropped catches had hurt them. "We got stuck in the first six overs with the bat," he added. "Every shot we played seemed to go to a fielder."
They are unlikely to play as badly again, but the next time he comes across Rayudu, who thumped him for two sixes, and the Mumbai Indians, such sloppiness could have more far-reaching consequences.