Bengaluru, May 14: The summer of 2003. Former India off-spinner EAS Prasanna was keenly watching a youngster batting at nets at the KSCA B Grounds - home of the National Cricket Academy. A man not so easy to be impressed upon, Prasanna looked chuffed at the sight of that young man tackling an array of net bowlers.
"He's of a different class. Look at the time he has to play his shots, the timing and precision. Keep watching him and be ready to write more about this boy," the legend said with a smile.
That evening was followed by another evening when that young man attested the words of Prasanna in a South Zone one-dayer with the most glorious 64 a 17-year-old can imagine of.
In the following years, we wrote generous amount about that young batsman - Ambati Tirupati Rayudu.
At times we wrote in awe of his cricketing gifts, at times we wrote in sympathy after he failed to get a look in to the Indian team after a good domestic season and at times we wrote in anger because he seemed to have learned nothing from the previous controversy. But we wrote about him and in the latest instance - and happier one too - it's about his comeback to India team.
Ambati Rayudu has been and should be one of the biggest paradoxes in Indian cricket. A very shy, ever-smiling man from Guntur, Andhra Pradesh, assumes multiple personalities - a breathtaking batsman and a person constantly in rebellion with himself and at the cricket establishments and sometimes against a pedestrian.
Rayudu once ditched his home state Hyderabad to play for Andhra and appeared in the now-defunct Indian Cricket League in 2007 and it required the BCCI amnesty for 'rebel' players in 2009 for him to return to mainstream cricket.
“He’s one of the key reasons we are sitting close to the top of the table now.” - Super Coach @SPFleming7 flowering #Yellove Compliments on our Bahubali @RayuduAmbati. #WhistlePodu 🦁💛https://t.co/LtLkyA9WpK— Chennai Super Kings (@ChennaiIPL) May 14, 2018
It was, perhaps, his stint with Mumbai Indians in the IPL and time spent with worthies like Sachin Tendulkar gave him more direction and confidence as a cricketer and individual. And it's quite apt that Rayudu's re-emergence is happening through another IPL outfit - Chennai Super Kings.
Rayudu's last ODI appearance for India was in June, 2016 against Zimbabwe in Harare and his average in that version remains a very fine 50.23 from 34 matches. Fell into a gorge of oblivion after that series, Rayudu has managed to blaze back to relevance through his efforts of Super Kings - 535 runs from 12 matches at a strike rate of 152.85 with a hundred to boot.
His maiden IPL hundred - an unbeaten even 100 - was the cornerstone of Chennai Super Kings' win over Sunrisers Hyderabad - a result that ensured play-off berth for MS Dhoni & Co.
Dhoni, a man who usually does not give in to euphemism, was copious in his praise of Rayudu. "Even before the IPL started, I had to make space for him because I've always rated him as somebody who can play the fast bowlers and the spinners very well," said Dhoni after the win against Hyderabad.
"Most of the teams look to exploit the openers with spin bowling, but he's somebody who doesn't look like a big hitter but clears the field every time he plays a big shot. My plan was to make him open, Kedar bats at No 4 or No 5 as he's needed, and according to that our batting order becomes very strong," said Dhoni.
It worked like magic and Rayudu, who opened for Super Kings with Shane Watson barring on a couple of instances, enjoyed and exploited the freedom that the number of overs at his disposal gave him.
Stephen Fleming, the Super Kings coach, was equally effusive. "He is one of the key reasons we are sitting close to the top of the points table. He has obviously dominated the run charts but the manner in which he has gone about his work has been so positive and infectious.
"You need one or two players to perform like that at the top if you want to win the IPL. At the moment, Rayudu is doing that and some other guys like Shane Watson, Suresh Raina and Dhoni are chipping in strongly. But Rayudu is certainly leading the way," said the Kiwi, an exceptional man manager.
But the biggest compliment for Rayudu came from Sunrisers' skipper Kane Williamson. "The calm nature in which he goes about his business, hitting the ball in fairly conventional areas but hitting it hard as well, it was a great knock to watch if you're not the opposition team. I think everybody's had plans for Rayudu, but none have worked just yet."
But Rayudu seemed to have drafted a plan for himself and it is working for him.