Was Ambati Rayudu Really Given a Raw Deal?


Was Ambati Rayudu Really Given a Raw Deal?

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty


If there is one thing that human beings are very bad at, it’s foresight.

Think back to a year ago, when Virat Kohli made the grand proclamation that their endless search for the number four position had finally ended with Ambati Rayudu, who had made a dramatic comeback to international cricket after many years in the wilderness. A winning IPL campaign with the Chennai Super Kings in 2018 seemed to boost his case. But a year is an eternity in sport. AB de Villiers, who shocked the world by announcing his retirement last year, supposedly tried to gain a backdoor entry into the South African team only to be politely told that the door was permanently closed for him and that other players had taken his place. So much can happen in a year. 

A year ago, if anyone had told Ambati Rayudu that come the World Cup, he would be sitting at home, disgruntled, hurt, and announcing his retirement, he would have laughed. 

If anyone had told Ambati Rayudu, who was captain of the India-A side in 2004 and touted as the next big thing in Indian cricket, that he would have to wait nine more years before he finally played for India, he would have been aghast. 

If anyone had told Ambati Rayudu when he defected to the rebel ICL that he would be forgiven for all his sins, and come back and win not one but four IPL titles with two of the best franchises in the tournament (Mumbai Indians and CSK), he would have told them to keep dreaming. 
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There are countless players like Rayudu whose sporting dreams remain just dreams, but each unfulfilled dream is different from the other.

Scott Barbour/Getty Images

It can be argued that Rayudu, like countless other cricketers, didn’t do justice to his talents. His repeated run-ins with authorities, team-mates, and even a senior citizen, showed the portrait of an angry young man who threw a fit if he didn’t get his way. There are countless players like Rayudu whose sporting dreams remain just dreams, but each unfulfilled dream is different from the other. 

Amol Mazumdar played Ranji cricket for 21 years for Mumbai and was a prolific scorer, but he never donned the India jersey even once. VVS Laxman played what is arguably the greatest Test innings ever and yet, come the 2003 World Cup, he was left out of the squad in favour of Dinesh Mongia, who didn’t have much of an impact on the tournament. Vinod Kambli and S Sreesanth had careers that became monuments to unfulfilled dreams and talent, leaving everyone banging their heads in frustration. 

To set the record straight, Rayudu didn’t exactly gain the trust of the selectors and captain with all the matches he played before the World Cup. His spot on a flight to England was shaky at best and with the advent of Vijay Shankar, who could bat as well as bowl a little, the door for Rayudu was closed. His exclusion set off a chain of events which included mistakes made by him as well as the selectors. 

Rayudu’s jibe at the selectors with his tweet about buying 3D glasses was one sent in disappointment and one which would come to haunt him later. After the squad was announced, Rayudu was named one of the reserves, which meant that in the eventuality of any player getting injured, he was in the pipeline to be called in. No one envisioned that injuries would derail Shikhar Dhawan’s as well as Vijay Shankar’s World Cup and that reserves would eventually have to be called in. After those two injuries, Rayudu would have thought that he was in line for a flight to England. 

In a team sport, Rayudu has always cut an individualistic figure, embattled and alone.

Instead, the selectors picked Mayanak Agarwal over him, someone who wasn’t even in the reserves. Seen through an unemotional lens, it might actually be a better decision. Mayanak Agarwal can open and KL Rahul can bat at number four, giving the team more options. Had Rayudu been roped in, he could not have opened and would have taken only the number four slot. So it seems a little preposterous to assume that it was just a tweet that ended his World Cup dreams.

However, it can’t be denied that Rayudu’s clashes with the authorities, the latest incident being the controversial tweet, have hampered his growth as an international cricketer. In a team sport, Rayudu has always cut an individualistic figure, embattled and alone. And though he possessed a gift for scoring runs, making connections was never his strong suit.

Throughout his career, Rayudu has often rubbed his fellow players and BCCI administrators the wrong way with his belligerent antics. Even before he gained notoriety on a national level, he was fighting during Ranji games with opposition players, with one scuffle in 2005 even seeing Rayudu attacked with a stump. In the 2016 IPL season, Rayudu engaged in a very public on-field argument with senior bowler Harbhajan Singh, a clash recorded for posterity. And just last year, the BCCI banned him for two games because he was confronting the umpire during domestic games against Karnataka. Perhaps his exclusion from the squad wasn’t decided solely on the basis of his talent, but also his conduct, which has been found wanting at various junctures.

If anything, Ambati Rayudu can take solace in the fact that there are countless hopefuls who would give anything to have had the experiences he did – four IPL titles, financial security, and a chance to represent the country. It might also help him to stop looking at success merely through the lens of a spot in a World Cup squad and throw away his remaining years in cricket. For a player who could have thrown in the towel years before, he chose to stay on and fight another battle. 

He might not seem himself as a winner. But there are many that do.