Ambati Rayudu's decision to come out of retirement has widely been described as a U-turn, but according to the batsman, it was nothing of the sort. He has turned down "lucrative offers" to play in overseas leagues, he said, and his top priority is now to "get runs for Hyderabad" in the Indian domestic circuit.
"I declined lucrative offers to play in T10 and T20 leagues in Canada and other countries. I have come out of retirement for well-wishers," he told Telangana Today. "It is not a U-turn as for good reasons I believe I have good amount of cricket left in me. My top priority is now to get runs for Hyderabad."
It has been a strange few months for Rayudu. He had retired from first-class cricket last year to focus on his white-ball career, and was soon announced as India's first-choice No. 4 batsman for the World Cup by none other than Virat Kohli. He was, however, left out of the World Cup squad in favour of Vijay Shankar and slotted in the list of standby players. If that wasn't bad enough, when Shikhar Dhawan and Vijay picked up injuries, Rishabh Pant and then Mayank Agarwal - the latter wasn't even in the list of standbys - travelled to England to join the squad. Rayudu announced his retirement soon after, but has over the past week withdrawn his announcement and reached out to Hyderabad Cricket Association, who have also been welcoming.
Rayudu said that being ignored for the World Cup was "shocking". "I had worked very hard to be ready for the World Cup. I quit red-ball cricket for the World Cup. I was extremely fit and doing the role, which the team asked me to do at No. 4 and suddenly when you are not in the team, it was shocking," he said. "There was no communication from the team members also."
Was it a matter of poor form, or did not playing first-class cricket hurt his chances?
"The main reason was that I wanted myself to be fully fit and fresh for the World Cup. I didn't regret that move and my sole intention was to do well in World Cup then," he said of quitting the longer format. "I don't agree that since I didn't play in Ranji Trophy, I didn't get runs for India.
"In fact, I had a very, very good tour of New Zealand [a couple of 40s and a 90 in the ODIs]. Of course, it took a game or two to get back to my form. I was the highest run-getter in New Zealand. I was happy with the way I was batting and shaping up. It was unfortunate that [the selectors] had different combinations in mind and that didn't work out for me."
"Sadly, I feel the Hyderabad colours are for sale and it is important the players should perform to earn a place in the team"
As for Hyderabad, they have left the door open for Rayudu, with Noel David, the chief selector, saying that Rayudu had "at least five years of cricket" left in him, and hoping that Rayudu would help groom the next lot of players.
If he does return to the side, however, Rayudu wants the environment to change from the current one, where, he says, "the Hyderabad colours are for sale".
"It is time there is a good ambience and there should be no pressure on the players. The best team should be selected. I feel that the players are playing under pressure. The infighting in the association is not good for cricket. Sadly, I feel the Hyderabad colours are for sale and it is important the players should perform to earn a place in the team," he said. "I remember when I had to score a lot of runs to get into the team, whether it was Under-16, Under-19 or Under-22. We were not sure of our places because the competition was very high.
"It is different now. I feel sad sometimes when deserving players are overlooked while others get into the team. It is very painful." Once back, despite everything, Rayudu might even want to throw his hat in the ring to be the Hyderabad captain.
"It is good to lead the side. Red-ball captaincy is crucial as it needs a lot of tactical acumen. I can talk to selectors on captaincy," he said. "At this stage of my career, I have nothing to prove to anyone. My goal is to take Hyderabad to a new high. We are a young team, which is exciting. I'm part of so many teams. I know how the winning culture would be and I want that in the Hyderabad team whether it is through captaincy or not.
"For me, it is not a comeback although I had announced the retirement when it was an off-season. It is important that there is a good environment in Hyderabad cricket. The players should be given confidence and there should not be any sense of insecurity. There was never deficit of talent in Hyderabad."