When India announced their 2019 World Cup squad yesterday, one of the major points of debate that has arisen has been that of the preference for Tamil Nadu all-rounder Vijay Shankar over Hyderabad batsman Ambati Rayudu. Not long after the latter seemed to have cemented the contentious No.4 spot in the batting lineup, he finds himself searching for answers as to what led to his omission from the big-ticket tournament.
Rayudu was selected to play for India last year on the England tour but couldn't join the team having failed the yo-yo test. After making a comeback into the team during the Asia Cup last September, the right-hander has featured in a total of 21 ODIs for the country scoring 639 runs at an average of 42.60 with a lone century and four fifties. Incidentally, he was also the highest run-scorer for India during the ODIs against New Zealand with 190 runs in five innings at an average of 63.33 and a strike rate of 82.25. On the other hand, Shankar has featured in 9 ODIs so far for India, scoring at an average of 33 with the highest score of 46.
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These stats would suggest that Rayudu has been dealt an unfair hand unless you scratch the surface. In the 21 matches the Chennai Super Kings (CSK) batsman has featured since his comeback, he was dismissed below 25 nine times. Also, his 90 against the Kiwis in Wellington in the final match of the series was his lone 50+ score outside the subcontinent.
When Rayudu was dropped for a few matches against Australia in India, it seemed like the patience of the selectors was running thin even though the batsman was still being talked about as the major contender for the all-important No.4 spot. Before the Indian Premier League (IPL) started, the Indian team management and the selectors reiterated that performances in the T20 league wouldn't be factored in when it came to selection for the World Cup. Still, one can't help but think that the CSK batsman's poor form - a single fifty in 8 matches played so far - wasn't helping his chances either.
While Rayudu's returns on the field have been below expectations, Shankar rose like a phoenix out of thin air and impressed everyone with a sane head on top his shoulders along with the added benefits of medium-pace bowling and good fielding - something that Rayudu lacks. The all-rounder has shown a lot of maturity since being castigated for his slow batting during last year's Nidahas Trophy final and during various points in the past four months, proved that he can do the job of solidifying the innings along with hitting a few lusty blows, if and when the situation demands.
The fact was further given official approval when speaking after the announcement of the World Cup squad, chairman of selectors MSK Prasad said Shankar is more 'three dimensional'.
"After the Champions Trophy (2017), we tried quite a few people in that position. We did give a few more chances to Rayudu. Vijay Shankar is three dimensional. We are looking at him at no. 4 to begin with. We also have Dinesh Karthik and Kedar Jadhav. It's not that anything that went against (Rayudu), it's that a few things went for (Vijay Shankar)."
Whether this reply by Prasad is deemed satisfactory by Rayudu or not, the latter must surely be feeling dismayed. Having earned a comeback on the basis of a phenomenal IPL 2018, he surely must have harboured dreams of representing his nation at the biggest stage of them all. But such is the competition in the Indian cricket scenario these days that a career ODI average which is even better than Sachin Tendulkar's is not enough to guarantee a berth in the side.
Naturally, questions will now be raised about his career, how he is nearing the end and how much cricket is still left in him. Incidentally, Rayudu has been facing the same doubts for a long time now - even when he was scoring a mountain of runs in the IPL last year. We all saw how he responded then. But with his World Cup dream now all but over, there must be that extra bit of disappointment still lingering for the cricketer.
It should be added that the BCCI might have been a bit premature in billing him as the top No.4 candidate and then jettisoning him when it mattered the most. It is a tough time for him and no matter what they say but the BCCI don't have the right answers for him and neither do we. It's up to Rayudu whether he keeps searching for them or focus on the only thing in his hand - bat like he did last year, in the IPL. If it helped him in 2018, there is no doubt that it can't in 2019.