Is Ambati Rayudu the answer to India’s No. 4 conundrum?

One jigsaw that was missing in India’s World Cup puzzle was the no. 4 batting position – a search that began after the ICC World Cup 2015. In this three-year period, the management experimented with 11 batsmen at no. 4, including Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni.

This particular batting position demands resilience and a strong mindset because it is the link between the top order and the lower middle order. It was thus no surprise that even the best in the business failed to own the no. 4 spot.

Ambati Rayudu – Captain Kohli’s choice for the coveted batting position

For Kohli, the Andhra Pradesh born Rayudu can solve the muddle existing in the middle.
For Kohli, the Andhra Pradesh born Rayudu can solve the muddle existing in the middle.

“Hopefully, he has solved all the mysteries of No 4. I guess till the World Cup there will be no questions on No 4. He batted brilliantly [against the West Indies],” Virat Kohli told the media after Rayudu’s recent century in Mumbai.

It took three years for an Indian captain (MS Dhoni in the past) to confidently name someone for the No. 4 position. For Kohli, the Andhra Pradesh born Rayudu can solve the muddle existing in the middle.

Kohli’s confidence came after the right-hander impressed in the Asia Cup 2018 and carried the same form into the ODIs against the Windies. Rayudu forced the national selectors to take note of his performances when he amassed 602 runs at an average of 43 and strike rate of 149 in IPL 2018. The T20 tournament was his point of catharsis. However, he failed to pass the yo-yo test and was thus left out of the tour to England earlier this year.

Rayudu worked harder on his fitness, passed the fitness test, and got selected for the Asia Cup which was played in the UAE recently. In the absence of Kohli, Rayudu batted at No 3 in five matches and opened in one match – the one against Afghanistan. Two half-centuries in the tournament, plus two other crucial knocks, meant that Rayudu had made his place in the team for the upcoming tournaments as well.

His inclusion in the ODI squad to face the Windies was given, and once again, he grabbed the opportunity with both hands. 217 runs from four innings, including a fine century, all of that at no. 4.

Designed to play in the middle

Virat Kohli said that Ambati Rayudu is designed to play in the middle
Virat Kohli said that Ambati Rayudu is designed to play in the middle

What stood out in his century at the Brabourne stadium, was the way in which Rayudu paced his innings. Batting as a second fiddle to Rohit Sharma, the 33-year-old scored the first 50 runs off 51 balls, and the remaining 50 in only 29 balls. Rohit on the other end was batting in rhythm, which is why it was important for Rayudu to pace his innings as per the situation, and so he did.

The Hyderabadi has sufficient international experience too – 45 ODIs in a career spanning across 5 years.  Also, he has been playing first class cricket since 2001 and has ample experience on that front as well.

“I don’t think it’s (the No. 4 position) is new to me because it’s a position I’ve played a lot in and there’s nothing new they’ve asked me to do. They’ve asked me to go out and play my game,” said Rayudu.

For someone who debuted in 2013 and boasts of an ODI average of 51.67, it is surprising that he wasn’t a big name in the team until the Asia Cup. Perhaps, Rayudu dug his own grave when he was caught in off-field controversies more than once. His debut and initial innings looked very promising, but he invited trouble when he chose to play in the rebel Indian Cricket League in 2007.

This meant that he couldn’t play for the BCCI until he accepted their amnesty offer in 2009 and played the IPL.

7 months to the World Cup – Rayudu’s best chance to prove his mettle

For someone who has never been a regular in the team, it must have felt huge to be called a certainty for the World Cup by the skipper himself. However, the Indian management doesn’t usually give a longer rope to players who fail to perform, and this should not be repeated with Rayudu.

The series against Australia and New Zealand will be the big test for the right-hander, who has competition from players like Dinesh Karthik, Manish Pandey, and Shreyas Iyer.

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