Bengaluru, October 31: Virat Kohli was quite emphatic when he nominated Ambati Rayudu for the No 4 slot and then stressed the need to back him till the 2019 World Cup. The statement was seemingly the apogee of a search that began after the ICC World Cup 2015 held in Australia and New Zealand.
In this three-year period, India experimented with 11 batsmen, including Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni, with varying intensity and duration at this slot to find a suitable candidate in the run-up to the World Cup 2019 to be held in England, which is now seven months away. And why exactly the No 4 position has created so much interest within and outside the team?
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It may be called the link slot between top and middle/lower order and demands exceptional flexibility of mindset. Depending on the situation you may be asked to drop the anchor, manage a chase or do downright acceleration. For the time being, Rayudu seemed to have earned the license to be India's long-term No 4.
It's a bit ironical that India is gradually settling in on Rayudu, whose own career witnessed countless moments of tumult, to give stability to their batting order. Some 14 summers ago, Rayudu hogged all the attention as a precious talent and captained India Under-19. But from that point on, his career journey was bumpy.
Rayudu joined the rebel and now defunct ICL, faced disputes within the state cricket, spent long days at the NCA for injury rehabilitation, failed a yo-yo test, and courted controversies more than once through his hot-temper on and off the field, including his outburst against an elder person. That well-concealed, ready-to-erupt volcano inside of him is in direct conflict with the affable person that Rayudu in general is. Where is that switch Rayudu?
The IPL 2018 might have been his point of catharsis. Rayudu was a frontline soldier in the title march of Chennai Super Kings scoring 602 runs from 16 matches to be placed fourth in the run-chart. He made a hundred and three fifties at an average of 43 and his strike-rate was an impressive 149.75. There was a determination to make his outings count.
And it was repeated in the Asia Cup, a tournament he returned to the India tent. Rayudu amassed 175 runs from six innings at 43.75 with two half-centuries. In the absence of Kohli, Rayudu batted at No 3 in five matches while opened in one match - in the tie against Afghanistan. It was not a smash-hit return but enough to convince the management about Rayudu's flexibility and growing maturity to handle bigger roles.
As a batsman Rayudu has wide range of shots and at times he gets out while trying to play one shot too many like it happened in the tied match at Visakhapatnam. Batting at No 4 along with Kohli, Rayudu was in complete control of things and a third ODI hundred was there for the taking. But the urge to dominate spinner Ashley Nurse overpowered him in the form a pull and Rayudu lost his timber.
Rayudu, however, made amends at the Brabourne Stadium, a venue familiar for him during his days with the Mumbai Indians. At the other end as a super fluent Rohit Sharma and Rayudu had to score runs without disrupting his rhythm. He went through the gears without any fuss.
Here's a look at his run-graph at Mumbai: His first 10 runs were scored off 16 balls and subsequently 20/29, 30/36, 40/43, 50/51. But his next 50 runs came off 29 balls - a 100 hundred - his 3rd in ODIs - in 80 balls which was 18 balls quicker than Rohit's hundred.
None of the batsmen, including Ajinkya Rahane, came prior to him at No 4 had showed such effortless maneuvering of innings.
Rayudu is still not on the sure shores considering that the World Cup is seven months away and contenders like Dinesh Karthik, who came at No 4 in the Asia Cup, Manish Pandey, KL Rahul, Shreyas Iyer are waiting for a slip-up from the latest No 4 designate.
But it won't be easy for the hopefuls. At 33, Rayudu, perhaps, has realised that he has this one-time opportunity to make up for all those past turbulence. Or perhaps, those troubled days taught him to value his chances more.