Many moons ago, when he was pitching to be India’s cricket coach, Australian batting great Greg Chappell identified Yuvraj Singh, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Gautam Gambhir and Ambati Rayudu to keep India’s batting world class in the immediate future. The first three were part of squads which won the 2007 T20 World Cup and the 2011 ICC Cricket World Cup .
Rayudu arrived in the Indian limited-overs' side late and has had a now-on-now-off stint. Having ceded the one-drop slot to a certain Virat Kohli, the 33-year-old has recently showcased himself as a reliable No 4 batsman. It must be therefore very vital for him to conserve himself to be of use to the ODI side till at least the ICC Cricket World Cup in 2019.
For someone whose decision-making off the cricket field was largely seen as reactive – his changing Ranji Trophy teams is a good illustration – this must have surprised not a few. There is a fair indication that he has spent time mulling this decision. It will not only work in his favour but also benefit the Indian ODI squad and the Hyderabad Ranji Trophy team.
For, in a season in which he was not selected to the Indian team because he failed the Yo-Yo test, he has made good use of what must be seen as the veritable last window of opportunity for him to pull his weight in the Indian team. In the 11 games that he has played, he scored 392 runs, including a century and three half-centuries.
If you consider the praise that Kohli heaped on Rayudu for making the most of the chance in the series against the West Indies, it can be surmised that the skipper has all but confirmed the Hyderabadi batsmen a longer run in the No 4 position. At a time when injuries to key players can hurt the team’s prospects, the Indian team could also be pleased with this development.
Having been given the opportunity to make the No 4 slot in the Indian batting order his own with an uninterrupted run in the home series against the West Indies after he succeeded mostly at one-drop in Kohli’s absence in the Asia Cup in Dubai, Rayudu appears to have won the confidence of the skipper while the team finds the jigsaw pieces ahead of the World Cup in England next year.
Of course, like Mahendra Singh Dhoni, he faces the challenge of going into the short ODI series in Australia with precious little cricket in the two months before the first game Down Under. Not a few would suggest that a couple of Ranji games would do him no harm but that would have meant someone else would be denied the chance to be of significance in Hyderabad’s quest.
For someone who has been prone to injury, Rayudu has given himself fewer chances of getting injured on a cricket field. The eagerness to play a part in India’s World Cup campaign is there for all to see. Of course, he was in the squad that went through to the semifinals of the 2015 edition in Australia and New Zealand but did not get to feature in any of the games.
By embracing the chance to plug the apparent vacuum at No 4, he has enhanced his chances of playing a central role in the Indian ODI team’s batting line-up and realise his dream of being an integral part of the team in world cricket’s biggest limited-over tournament next year. In choosing to restrict his appearances to white ball cricket alone, Rayudu could optimise the rest of his career.
The other beneficiary can be the Hyderabad Ranji Trophy team. It is not as if Rayudu has made a huge contribution to the making of that squad. Now, it is unlikely Rayudu had this thought in mind when he called time on red ball cricket. But his retirement from First-Class cricket will mean that a player will not be denied a place in the XI.
As things stand, he played his last First-Class game nearly a year ago. He scored two half-centuries against Assam and was instrumental in the team picking up a four-wicket win. It was only his third Ranji game of the season in which he had returned to Hyderabad after peddling his wares of Baroda and Vidarbha for a few years.
There are some who could be inclined to recall an old feud with Hyderabad coach Arjun Yadav, his team-mate from several years ago, and suggest that this is the reason Rayudu made himself unavailable to Hyderabad this Ranji Trophy season. Yet, if that were true, he would have moved teams yet again. Like he did in the past.
It is just as well that instead of lingering on to play Ranji Trophy and not pulling his weight in the squad or not contributing to the evolution of a bunch of younger players, Rayudu has rung the curtain down on days’ cricket. His decision must be seen as a good one for everyone concerned, without exception.
Viewed against the larger backdrop, you can expect experienced more cricketers who have given up hope of playing Tests to make such decisions in the hope of extending their respective careers as limited-over cricketers – be it for the nation, state or franchise. Rayudu is not the first to opt out of First-Class cricket altogether. Nor will he be the last.
Yet, he has given himself the chance to finally make a name for himself — a reliable, consistent and mature international batsmen – at least in the limited-over format. It is something that Greg Chappell had envisaged all those years ago. After encountering mixed fortunes thus far, Rayudu’s decision to focus on white ball cricket at age 33 can only serve him and India in good stead.
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Rohit, who was also the designated Test vice-captain for the tour of South Africa, sustained a left-hamstring strain during a net session just prior to the team's departure for the tour and had to pull out.
The 33-year-old Roach has taken 365 international wickets, including 124 in ODIs, but has not played a one-day game since 2019.
"No matter what you say, stuff like he plays with his heart on his sleeve, this reaction was an exaggerated one and you can't be a role model in this manner. No budding cricketers would want to see this kind of a reaction, especially from the Indian captain," Gambhir said.