Ambati Rayudu reacted to the not too pleasant news about his exclusion from the squad for 2019 ICC World Cup by tweeting that he had ordered a set of “3D” glasses for watching the championship. This was obviously in response to the statement of chief selector M S K Prasad that Vijay Shankar, who won a place in the squad, brought with him a three dimension effect, on account of his abilities in all departments of the game.
Rayudu had been batting at the critical No. 4 spot in the national side through most of last year and was considered a certainty to make it to the team till the start of the One-Day International (ODI) series against Australia last month. A series of low scores led to his omission from the playing eleven after three matches. Even after that it was expected that he would make it to the set of 15 players for the World Cup. But the decision of the selectors to plump for Shankar, who they felt offered more options to the team management put paid to his hopes.
Time running out
That this development is a huge disappointment for Rayudu is not in doubt. He is presently 33 years and nine months old and would be considered an “oldie” by the time the next edition of the World Cup kicks in after four years. Earlier, he had lost valuable years of his cricketing life on account of his own indiscretions and must have been looking forward to an opportunity for striking it big on the biggest stage in international cricket. Even if one gives a handicap for the acute chagrin that he must be reeling under, one felt that the tweet was unseemly and undignified, to place it mildly.
Rayudu had shot into prominence as a promising batsman in junior level cricket and was selected to lead the national side for the under-19 World Cup in England in 2004. India failed to make it beyond the semifinals with the skipper himself unable to play that match on account of serving a one-match suspension for breach of code of conduct. In 2005, he had a much publicised stand off with Rajesh Yadav, the coach of the Hyderabad side, that saw him shift base to Andhra Pradesh. He returned to Hyderabad in 2007, but soon got enmeshed in another controversy as he decided to join the rebel Indian Cricket League (ICL), that was promoted by a popular Hindi channel. This earned him the ire of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), which banned all the players who took part in the ICL from domestic cricket.
The ICL folded up in 2008 leaving the 79 players who took part in it in wilderness, but the BCCI gave them a lifeline by announcing an amnesty scheme, which allowed them to take part in domestic cricket from 2009-10 season onwards. Rayudu returned to the Hyderabad Ranji Trophy side and worked his way back to the national reckoning with a string of consistent performances. This ensured his selection into the Mumbai Indians side for the 2010 Indian Premier League (IPL) season. After being on the sidelines of the national side for a couple of years, he finally made his ODI debut during the tour of Zimbabwe in 2013. He made his mark straightaway with a half-century on debut and hit his first ODI century a year later. However, he could not cement his place in the side and continued to languish among the reserves. He was part of the Indian squad for the 2015 World Cup, but did not get a chance to play.
It was only during the last 18 months that the Indian team management gave Rayudu a regular run in the playing eleven. But despite skipper Virat Kohli backing him to the hilt, one always got the feeling that he always appeared a bit too uncertain about his place in the side. A career aggregate of 1,624 runs in 55 matches at an average of 47.05 and strike rate of 79.04, spread over a period of six years, tells the whole story - he possessed the talent and got the opportunities as well but could not come up with those memorable match-winning performances that would have elevated him to the class of great players.
Rayudu’s track record has been besmirched with a record of altercations on the field. In 2005, while playing for Andhra, he got into an altercation with his former teammate Arjun Yadav, which ended in the latter chasing him with a stump in hand. Even after his comeback following the amnesty, there were incidents in the 2012 IPL and another one while playing for India 'A' against Australia where he was found guilty of using expletives. In 2016, he got involved in a spat with his Mumbai Indian teammate Harbhajan Singh while playing in the IPL, and in 2018 he was handed a two-match suspension by the BCCI for arguing with the umpires during a domestic first class match. This history of repeated bad behaviour makes one wonder whether this happens on account of frustration getting the better of him.
Rayudu would do well to remember that he is not the first player who has been a regular member of the squad to be dropped from the side for the World Cup. Mohinder Amarnath was the man of the match during the semifinals and final of the 1983 World Cup where India were crowned as champions for the first time. After a sudden slump in form during the series against the West Indies in 1983-84, he returned to the national side by the end of 1984 and was a regular member of both the Test and ODI teams. However, he was not included in the squad for the 1987 World Cup, which was co-hosted by India and Pakistan, and the reasons for that were never explained by the selectors. India lost to England in the semifinals, going down by 35 runs. Dilip Vengsarkar, the in-form batsman for India, did not play that game as he was down with an upset stomach and Chandrakant Pandit, who found a place in the squad as a reserve wicketkeeper, was pitchforked into the playing eleven. Most of the followers of the game in India, including this author, firmly believe that India would have chased down the target of 255 runs set by England had Amarnath been in the side. Ironically, Amarnath returned to the ODI side after the World Cup and played in all matches against the West Indies in the series that followed the tournament. It also merits mention that no other Indian cricketer had faced the vicissitudes as stoically as Amarnath. He seldom complained or cribbed in this regard till his famous outburst after being dropped from the side in 1989, which led him to call the selectors as a bunch of “court jesters”!
Sad case of Laxman
V V S Laxman had cemented his place in the Indian side for Test matches and ODIs following his golden run with the bat during the home series against Australia in 2000-01. He performed creditably during the away series against the West Indies and England and was considered to be a certainty for the 2003 World Cup. However, he suffered a slump in form during the short tour of New Zealand that immediately preceded the championship. In fact none of the top Indian batsmen could get going in New Zealand where the wickets and the playing conditions were tailor made for seam and swing bowling. However, Laxman was made the fall guy for the poor performance of the team and dropped from the World Cup squad. Laxman has confessed that he felt so devastated by the decision of the selectors that he nearly made up his mind to quit the game. It would have rankled him more because Dinesh Mongia, the player who replaced him, was neither a better batsman than him nor an athletic fielder, which made his dropping completely inexplicable. Laxman returned to the side when the 2003-04 season started, and went on to have a great season in both Tests and limited overs matches. Laxman remains one of the very few players who did not have an opportunity to turn out for his country in the World Cup despite playing more than 100 Test matches.
Another tidbit that comes to mind on this subject relates to the 1996 World Cup, which was jointly hosted by India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Rahul Dravid had been scoring tons of runs in the domestic cricket and it was only a matter of time before he made the graduation to the highest level. However, the selectors decided to delay his initiation into international cricket till the completion of the World Cup. It was feared by them that the intense pressure that playing in a championship at home would entail might be too much for the up-and-coming youngster. Dravid, ever the stoic, took this decision in his stride and made his bow in international cricket at Singapore during the Singer Cup in April, 1996.
Part and parcel of the game
Professional sportsmen are used to failures and setbacks. What separates the great from the good is the manner in which they face these adversities and tide over them. Fans of the game world over hold Sachin Tendulkar in such regard not merely for the runs he scored or the manner in which he decimated opposing bowling attacks; it is also on account of the manner in which he conducted himself on and off the field. Tendulkar had to go under the scalpel no fewer than five occasions during his 24-year long career in international cricket and there would have been many a time when he felt like calling it a day. However, he showed the determination and resilience to fight back and overcome the challenges that came in his way.
One can understand the disappointment of a player who has been overlooked by the selectors. The remedy for that does not lie in slighting the members of the selection committee, but in letting the bat do the talking by scoring heaps of runs. Rayudu should take a leaf out of the lives of other great cricketers who did not allow stumbling blocks to derail their career. Hence, rather than indulging in tweets and posts, which would only help to win infamy, he should focus his energies and talent towards becoming a better batsman and a more rounded cricketer.
(The author is a former international umpire and a senior bureaucrat)