'More than nervous, I was emotional' - Rayudu
Ambati Rayudu's personal history has all the makings of a classic bildungsroman. The early promise of a teenage prodigy, the growing pains, the rebel years, and now redemption. The final chapter of his story is yet to be written, but now that he's enjoyed a successful debut for India, it's a lot more likely that his ending will be a happy one.
"It feels marvelous," said Rayudu after he shared a match-winning 159-run stand with Virat Kohli to help thump Zimbabwe by six wickets in the series opener at Harare Sports Club. Kohli departed before the match was won - though not before racking up a 15th ODI century - but Rayudu stood firm and hit the winning runs off a Tinotenda Mutombodzi full toss.
"It's been pretty emotional," he said. "More than nervous, I was very emotional." If that was the case, he hid his emotions well after entering with India at 57 for 2 with the openers back in the pavilion. India weren't exactly under intense pressure at the time, but the match was far from won.
With Kohli stroking the ball supremely at the other end, Rayudu was afforded the luxury of time and space to play himself in, and left three of his first 10 deliveries alone. Placing the ball and running well, he left the bulk of the aggressive stroke play to Kohli and reached a debut fifty, off 74 deliveries, in the 39th over.
"I think he's playing the best cricket possible," Rayudu said of Kohli. "I definitely feel that he's the best in the world right now in the one-day format. He made it a lot easier for me, and I was just looking at the way he was constructing his innings. It's a very good learning experience."
Rayudu's clashes with authority over the years have been well documented, and a large tattoo on the side of his neck completes the 'bad boy' image, but it was at the IPL that he found a support structure to temper his fiery side and harness his potential. Whether the tournament helps or hinders young cricketers' development is a deeply divisive issue, but in Rayudu's case the Mumbai Indians set-up seemed to bring out the best in him.
"My family, my friends and especially the Mumbai Indians support staff [have been there for me]," Rayudu said. "Sachin [Tendulkar] and Robin Singh especially. They've helped me a lot, and I'd definitely like to thank them for that.
"I always had the belief that if I could get things right and I could get my mind right I could make it into the team one day, and I'm really happy that I got my chance today."
Liam Brickhill is a freelance journalist based in Cape Town