A not-so-cryptic tweet from Ambati Rayudu has added to the public criticism of the decision to drop him for the World Cup.
Rayudu was left out in favour of Vijay Shankar, who, in the words of the chief selector, brings “three dimensions” to the side. A day after the said selection, Rayudu tweeted: “Just ordered a new set of 3d glasses to watch the World Cup.” It was followed by a winking and a smiling emoji.
It is rare for an India-contracted player to openly question selections – Karun Nair was reportedly disciplined the last time he spoke about them – let alone take to Twitter to make a sharp comment that can be seen as mocking a selector’s comments.
India’s chairman of selectors MSK Prasad had said the final spot had eventually come down to Rayudu and Vijay. “After the Champions Trophy [in 2017], we have tried quite a few middle-order batsmen, which also includes Dinesh Karthik at that order, and we also tried Shreyas Iyer and Manish Pandey,” he said. “We did give a few more chances to Rayudu but what Vijay Shankar offers is three dimensions: apart from his batting, he can bowl; if the conditions are suitable, overcast, which we might encounter in England, he might bowl a bit and he’s a fantastic fielder.”
Not long ago, in October 2018, captain Virat Kohli had all but anointed Rayudu India’s No.4 for the World Cup. “With Rayudu coming in and playing well in the Asia Cup, it’s about giving him enough game time till the World Cup so that the particular slot [No. 4] will be sorted for us,” Kohli had said. “The team felt there — and I also watched him — that he is designed to play that middle-order batsman’s role.
“We feel that our middle order is more or less balanced now. We believe he is the right person to capitalise on that spot. He is experienced, and has won many games for his state and also in the IPL. He has a great ODI record already for India. I think the batting order is sorted.”
Since that comment, India have played 18 matches, out of which Rayudu has been involved in 15. He is India’s fourth-highest run-getter over that period, averaging 42.18, striking at 85.6 runs per 100 balls, and ending the New Zealand tour as the highest run-getter. Among players that have played a minimum of 50 ODIs over their careers, Rayudu holds the fourth-highest average for India. Narrow it down to eight big oppositions, and he still is seventh-highest.
Rayudu is not the only one frustrated with this decision. Many cricket experts have questioned his exclusion. “I think there should be no debate about Rishabh Pant’s exclusion but more about Ambati Rayudu,” Gautam Gambhir told PTI. “It is very, very unfortunate that someone averaging 48 in white-ball cricket, and is only 33, has been left out. That for me is more heart-breaking than any other selection decision.
“I feel sorry for him as I was in a similar position in 2007, when they didn’t pick me, and I know how difficult it is not being picked for the World Cup. Ultimately, for any young kid, it is a childhood dream to be a part of the big event. So, I feel more sorry for Rayudu than any other cricketer who hasn’t been picked.”
Former India spinner Murali Kartik pointed to a recency and aesthetics bias. “We always look at performances very close to the selection, and as I am very happy for Vijay Shankar, I feel for Ambati Rayudu, because for a while he has been your No. 4, he has got runs for you,” Kartik told ESPNcricinfo. “Yes, he has missed out on a few occasions as have other batsmen. But when you look at his record, and – you guys might dissect it a lot more – just to the naked eye, for me, I’ll look at him purely as a cricketer, in my team he has done everything right as a No. 4.
“In the sense that there will be swords against him about him playing genuine fast bowling – I don’t think that’s a big issue, there are lots of people who will struggle against genuine fast bowling. It’s not Ambati Rayudu alone. He’s a very good player of spin as well in the middle order.”
“Somebody like an Ambati Rayudu, it’s not a question of looking convincing, it’s a matter of getting runs, and that’s exactly what it is,” Kartik went on to add. “And KL Rahul, he looks pleasing, he looks a million dollars – don’t get me wrong there, I’m a huge, huge fan of KL Rahul – but if he was so crucial, why wasn’t he playing in the last few months?
“Why wasn’t he given a chance in the last few months? So, for me, six months ago this team should have been ready, saying, ‘Okay, these are the guys who are going, you don’t have to watch over your shoulder, just go and play the way you want to play, your spot is secure.’ For somebody to endorse that ‘this guy’s is my No. 4’ and he plays there, he gets runs, yes he’s going to miss out as do others, and then suddenly he gets dropped.”
On the same ESPNCricinfo show, Deep Dasgupta said he wouldn’t have picked Rayudu, but he was not happy with the process followed. “It’s difficult to understand it completely, the whole process, where the team management comes out and says ‘he is our No. 4’ and now he isn’t there,” Dasgupta said. “This is over a span of a month-and-a-half, two months. But I also understand why Vijay Shankar is there.
“It is unfortunate that Rayudu is not there. But in my team, Rayudu wasn’t there, because as Kartik touched upon that point, that at times he doesn’t look too convincing. Again, if you look at the numbers, then Rayudu is far, far ahead of the other No. 4 players that have been tried out. No questions about that as far as numbers are concerned. But the convincing part of it, I’m not completely convinced when I see him bat.”