The past week at the International Cricket Council World Cup 2019 (WC19) saw the curious turn of fate of two talented Indian batsmen. Ambati Rayudu and Rohit Sharma are separated by a year and seven months. The duo arrived in Indian cricket circles as prodigious talents acknowledged by many to be likely stars of the future.
The elder Rayudu, made his International debut in One Day Internationals in July 2013 against Zimbabwe while Rohit donned his India cap in ODIs against Ireland in 2007. Both had come up through the ranks, playing age group cricket and earning a place in their state teams. While Rayudu started with Hyderabad, Rohit came up scoring heavily in the sparse maidans of Mumbai.
I first heard of Rayudu, from a friend based in Hyderabad, as someone who had the talent and attitude to play for India. Like Sachin Tendulkar, Rayudu too made his first class debut when he was 16 years old and was soon was scoring heavily in age group matches. He finished as the third highest scorer in the Ranji Trophy with two landmark innings of 210 and an unbeaten 159 against Andhra in his second season of the championship.
Rohit, meanwhile, debuted for Mumbai in 2006 and scored a double hundred against Gujarat in his team’s winning campaign that season. My former club mate, Dinesh ‘Raju’ Lad was his first coach in the far flung suburb of Borivali. Like his coach, Ramakant Achrekar, Lad made Rohit change his school, just the way Achrekar had done with Tendulkar.
I distinctly remember Lad telling me that his ward started as a bowler and soon had the eyes of many local seniors turned towards him with his fluent batting. Rohit’s rise, in the shorter versions of the game has been phenomenal. His match winning innings for India and Mumbai Indians have made him a superstar competing with the likes of Virat Kohli and Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
While Rayudu continued to dominate bowlers in domestic cricket, his spat with the Hyderabad coach forced him to move to neighbouring Andhra Pradesh for a year. His scuffle with a Hyderabad player, while playing for Andhra, once again got him into the news. Coming back to Hyderabad did not do much for his career as a knee injury put him on the sidelines.
Joining the Indian Cricket League, a failed private enterprise, put Rayudu back by many notches. The Board of Control for Cricket in India put severe strictures on those associated with ICL, something that affected many players who had jumped into the pool without gauging the depth of the waters therein. Thanks to an amnesty declared by the BCCI, Rayudu joined many others that were back playing domestic cricket and had got a lifeline to resurrect their careers. Many failed to make a comeback.
Rayudu took this opportunity to get his career back on track by scoring heavily in domestic cricket and being picked by the Mumbai Indians to play the (official) Indian Premier League in the 2010 season of the blockbuster tournament. His move from Hyderabad (who had accommodated the batsman twice) to Baroda was taken badly by many who felt he let his primary home team down when they most needed him.
From 2013 onwards, Rayudu continued to be a member of the team in ODIs, getting occasional chances but never consolidating his position. Even though Kohli backed his abilities for the probable number four position for WC19, Rayudu was overlooked by the selectors when the final team was picked and named as a standby.
The perennial rebel that Rayudu is, he posted on his social media handle that he had ‘just ordered a new set of 3d glasses to watch the world cup’. The 3D bit referring to Vijay Shankar, as he was called by the head of the Indian selection committee, MSK Prasad. Rayudu’s sense of humour (if it was meant that way) fell further flat when he was overlooked by the selectors for the second time by replacing their 3D specialist Shankar with Mayank Agarwal.
With no recourse left, Ambati Rayudu retired from all forms of cricket a day after he was snubbed. Out after being a formal stand by for WC19 was a bit too much for someone with a background of being rebellious.
Coming back to the two batsmen, Rohit has created history by becoming the first batsman in the history of the World Cup to score five centuries in an edition. Rayudu, meanwhile, will be licking his wounds and wondering if he did the right thing by retiring early. This is bitter-sweet tale of two immensely talented cricketers: one is riding a wave while the other is submerged beneath....