Ambati Rayudu was overlooked for the recently-announced 15-man Indian World Cup squad to make way for all-rounder Vijay Shankar who is tipped to bat at No. 4. Recently, Rayudu's form has been questionable and looked bereft of oomph against sides with quality pace attacks.
If numbers don’t dictate selection, then what does? And if numbers are all the matter, then why do we need selectors?
Once the Indian ODI squad for the upcoming World Cup was announced, the exclusion of Ambati Rayudu has been a huge talking point. How did Rayudu fail to earn a World Cup spot? In October last year, Virat Kohli cleared the air surrounding No. 4 spot, saying that Rayudu was designed to play the middle-order batsman’s role, given his experience and history of winning matches both in the IPL and for his state.
Rayudu returned to the fold in the Asia Cup in 2018, after clearing the yo-yo test. Since then he has batted 14 times (the most among Indian batsmen) at No. 4, scoring 464 runs with one century and two fifties at an average of 42.18. He also opened the innings once and took guard at No. 3 on a few occasions.
Rayudu has been a part of 21 out of 24 ODIs that India played since his return, amassing 639 runs at 42.60. Good numbers, but the real test hadn’t even begun. His average languishes at 30.87 against SENA countries, who are widely reckoned to have stronger bowling attacks. And if we take that 90-run knock against New Zealand out of the equation, then the numbers are in one simple word - mediocre. More importantly, Rayudu didn’t look convincing, his modes of dismissal and the method in which he was dominated by quality attacks made the think tank skeptical about his technique. Also, if numbers were all that mattered, there'd not have any need of the selectors.
Before the Australia series (in Australia), Rayudu got no match practice under his belt and subsequently failed. Reason? He had quit first-class cricket in order to focus on World Cup. Silly for someone who wasn’t even a certainty for the World Cup spot. When he arrived in Australia, it became clear that he was rusty. He looked like a sitting duck against the intimidating Australian attack, had he not quit First-Class cricket (Ranji Trophy), he could have had some match practice under his belt and perhaps wouldn’t have been so rusty.
In recent times, the only substantial score Rayudu bagged away from the sub-continent was a sluggish 90 against New Zealand at Wellington. In that innings too, New Zealand were only playing two full-time fast bowlers, which didn’t pose enough threat to Rayudu, who was batting at 4. Again, his innings was not pleasing to the eye and by no means inspired confidence for a solid No. 4. He may have got the runs but failed to earn the trust.
In the first ODI at Napier, when India only needed a few runs to win, Rayudu came out with everything to lose. Kohli was dismissed off a short one by Lockie Ferguson on the previous delivery. Rayudu hung back expecting another one and nicked it back, only that it went between keeper and slip. Second ball bouncer and it was awkwardly played. This is just another instance, which proves how vulnerable Rayudu gets the moment surface has something for the bowlers.
Then came the Australia series at home, which was crucial for a player like Rayudu, whose World Cup selection was hanging by the thread. The situation went from bad to worse when his weaknesses were brutally exploited once again by Australia. To add to his woes, Rayudu didn’t cross the 20-run mark even on a single occasion and was dropped after the third game as the team management lost complete faith in him.
Although selectors have not taken the IPL form into consideration for the World Cup selection, Rayudu has done nothing spectacular to make his presence unavoidable either. His form dipped just as Vijay Shankar started to impress, he looked susceptible against quality pace and Shankar was quite the opposite. Rayudu didn’t look influential and Shankar did when it mattered and quickly snatched the attention.
In his sporadic appearances, Shankar has earned the faith of the selectors and has not only showed good technique but also a composed head with the hunger to go after the bowling attacks. He has not converted his starts into daddy hundreds, but it’s only time before he finally does so. Also, he is a livewire on the field while Rayudu was a liability; Shankar can fit into the shoes of a sixth bowler easily whereas Rayudu hasn’t put in the hard yards after being reported for the suspect action in Australia last year. Rayudu’s strike rate has been another issue, which keeps floating around upper 80s for a batsman neither solid nor attacking.
Shankar’s international debut was a forgettable one, but he has looked like a different player altogether since then. He belongs to the rare class of versatile batsmen and equally effective in any given position. The sample size may be too small but the signs are promising and worth a gamble. No. 4 of any team has to be a good player of spin, of course, but he could also come in at 10 for 2.
Shankar’s highest score in ODIs is just 46, but his domestic numbers are notable. He is well capable of anchoring an innings and play the risk-free big strokes when needed. With MS Dhoni not being the player he used to be, a batsman like Shankar is apt to bat at 4 for India.
Rayudu has the right to be disappointed, but BCCI has done nothing wrong in devoting a lot of time to him. They provided sufficient chances, he didn’t make the most of it, BCCI dumped him, it is as simple as that. There is no right or wrong, after all, it’s a team game and the selectors have done a commendable job in handpicking 15 best players in the country and by no means have been unfair towards Rayudu. As a matter of fact, Rayudu got a lifeline after being named among the standbys for the world Cup squad along with Pant and Navdeep Saini.
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