It was nice to be part of the Indian team, but too short: Rayudu
The smile is intact.
So is the confidence...and the performances.
Only the teams have kept changing.
Ambati Rayudu has played for three Ranji Trophy sides in a career spanning a little more than a decade -- excluding the two years (2007-09) during which he was banned by the BCCI for playing in the now-defunct Indian Cricket League (ICL).
With Hyderabad getting relegated following the 2009-10 season, Rayudu made a decision to move five-time champions Baroda. There were not many who approved of the same.
Yet the 27-year-old put up an impressive show with the bat, scoring 566 runs in matches (@56.60) -- the best contribution for his new team -- even as Baroda went all the way to the final, losing to Rajasthan. No wonder the batsman still considers the switch a good career decision.
"I made a choice to move to a place where no batsman actually wanted to go because of the wicket," explained Rayudu.
Image: Ambati Rayudu
Photographs: Bikash Mohapatra/Rediff.com
'It was a great experience leading Baroda'
"I took that as a challenge and am happy that I am doing well, and so is the team," he added.
While his maiden season with Baroda was a success, in his second year the team failed to make it to the knockout rounds, despite Rayudu performing admirably -- 390 in six matches (@48.75). The management was quick to react, making Yusuf Pathan the captain and Rayudu his deputy ahead of the season.
However, with Yusuf being sidelined with a finger injury after the first two matches -- against Karnataka and Vidharba -- Rayudu took over as the captain. To his credit the 27-year-old did a decent job as a skipper, Baroda winning twice and scoring three draws in his six matches in charge to make it to the quarter-finals.
For someone who had captained the Indian under-19 team with distinction, the challenge of leading Baroda was yet another opportunity to prove his mettle. And Rayudu relished the same.
"It was a great experience leading Baroda," he explained.
"We played some really exciting matches and qualified to the knockout stages from what was a tough group (that included former champions Delhi, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu)," he added.
With Baroda knocked out of the tournament -- Mumbai is progressing at their expense, Rayudu back as the vice-captain -- with Yusuf returning for the match -- was palpably disappointed.
Photographs: Bikash Mohapatra/Rediff.com
'Our batsmen lacked application'
"It is really disappointing to bow out in this match, especially since we didn't even put up a fight," he said, before proceeding to point out what went wrong.
"Most definitely our batsmen lacked application," said Rayudu, adding, "They just threw their wickets away.
"If you applied yourselves on this wicket and waited for the right balls, you could play your shots."
The player albeit performed his duties to the hilt, aggregating 647 runs in eight matches (@58.81). In fact eight of his last 10 innings featured 50-plus scores, one of them being a hundred -- 131 against Delhi. No wonder he is satisfied with his efforts.
"I personally had a very good season, to be honest," said Rayudu, adding, "I played on really helpful tracks and am pretty happy with the way I am batting.
"I am improving with every match." Asked if there was any knock in particular that satisfied him the most, the batsman was forthcoming.
"There are a few knocks which satisfied me the most, especially the ones against Tamil Nadu," explained Rayudu.
It was a really difficult track to bat on and in both innings I got fifties (66 and 54). So those two innings I would rate the best," he added.
Against Mumbai as well, Rayudu was the only Baroda batsman who looked impressive, remaining unbeaten on 89.
'This is the first time I played against Tendulkar'
Coincidentally it was the first time he played against Sachin Tendulkar.
(For starters, Tendulkar was instrumental in getting Rayudu to Mumbai Indians after the player had been granted amnesty by the BCCI. The player has since expressed his gratitude by scoring more than 1000 runs in three seasons, with eight fifties).
"Yes, this is the first time I played against him (Tendulkar)," admitted Rayudu, adding, "But as professional cricketers we both know how to behave when playing against each other.
"So it was just normal between the two of us."
While he has been a consistent force at the domestic level, Rayudu has so far been ignored by the national selectors. With the likes of Suresh Raina, Robin Uthappa, Irfan Pathan and Dinesh Karthik, who played under his captaincy at the Under-19 level, having represented Team India, it has been an endless wait for Rayudu.
He had been included among the 30 probables for the T20 World Cup in Sri Lanka last year but missed the cut. Likewise he got his first national call for the T20s against England last December but never played. Same was the case against Pakistan.
However, Rayudu just enjoyed being part of the set-up, despite of not playing
"It was nice to be part of the Indian team, but too short," he said.
"It was exciting to be part of the dressing room and see the seniors do well," he added. The 27-year-old surprisingly showed no frustration whatsoever at not having made it to the national side so far.
"I am enjoying my game and trying to improve every day," explained Rayudu, adding, "I am in a good space and good mindset.
"Every day brings a new challenge and one should be in a position to enjoy it."