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CSK's faith in Ambati Rayudu is paying off

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Ambati_Rayudu_India_Chennai_Super_Kings_IPL_CricketIt's the third ball of the day. Mumbai's Mitchell McClenaghan is the bowler and Chennai Super Kings' Ambati Rayudu is on the strike.

Rayudu steps out and with the middle of the bat, he smashes the ball into the sight-screen.

The shot oozed confidence, swagger and reflected something very eye-catching about Rayudu in the 2018 season of the Indian Premier League (IPL). It was just the third ball of the match but it didn't matter to Rayudu, who has been in the form of his life. Shots like these have been associated with Rayudu in his first year with the Chennai Super Kings (CSK) and that has helped him win the hearts of fans so quickly.

Rayudu's best IPL season was in 2011, with the Mumbai Indians, where he scored 395 runs. In his ongoing 2.0 form, Rayudu is on the verge of bettering that record as he has already scored 329 runs in just seven matches this season for CSK. As a batsman, he looks more powerful than ever and has already hammered more sixes this season (19) than his last two seasons combined (15).

 

More importantly, the Andhra Pradesh-born cricketer seems to finally be at peace. His hot-headed nature had cost him several things in his career, right from the beginning. After an excellent start to his First-Class career with Hyderabad, he was forced to move to Andhra because he didn't get along with then Hyderabad coach Rajesh Yadav. He moved back to Hyderabad the following year but ran into trouble with umpires.

 

At 21, he made the poor choice of playing in the Indian Cricket League in 2007, and almost jeopardized his chances of ever playing for India. The combination of hot-headedness coupled with bad choices and internal politics in the Hyderabad team negatively affected Rayudu for a very long time.

After consistent performances in the IPL, Rayudu finally broke into the Indian team in 2013. So far, he has played 34 ODIs and averages 50.23, justifying his selection. He played four ODIs in his maiden year, 2013, but his biggest year came in 2014 where he had made 20 appearances in the blue jersey. In those 20 matches, Rayudu scored 584 runs and averaged 44.92.

He was even selected in the 2015 World Cup squad but never got a game that tournament. Since then, he has appeared in the Indian side far less frequently. His position in the national team was in the middle-order and, in the past couple of years, demand for that spot has really sky-rocketed, with players like Manish Pandey, Hardik Pandya, Kedar Jadhav and even Dinesh Karthik fighting for a place.

Rayudu last played an ODI in 2016. He had also not performed well in the IPL in the last two seasons, which had been one of the major reasons for dropping Rayudu from the India selection.

 

However, the world is witnessing a transformed Rayudu in the yellow jersey. He has been doing everything possible to grab the blue jersey once again. The old Rayudu, who had no control over his emotions, used to throw away his wicket whenever things didn't go his way. This time around, he has shown maturity to take his time, pick the right deliveries instead of going all-out trying to score runs.

 

CSK picked Rayudu in the player auction in February and showed faith in him. Rayudu has repaid that faith with his contributions that have played a vital role in CSK being among the top two teams in the IPL 2018 table.

CSK has mostly used Rayudu as an opener, though he has floated around the batting line-up on occasion. In seven matches, he has already batted at three different positions. Whatever challenge CSK has thrown at him, the batsman has not only accepted it but has produced fruitful results. In the first two games, Rayudu was sent in as Shane Watson's opening partner. He managed only 22 against Mumbai and 39 against Kolkata so he was pushed down to No. 3, where he scored a quick-fire 49 against Punjab.

His last three innings have seen him bat at number 4 once and open twice and he has flourished. He scored a 37-ball 79 on a tricky Hyderabad track, battling the dry heat. If you said he had a home advantage there, he followed that knock with an even better one in Bangalore. Chasing Royal Challengers Bangalore's 205, Rayudu struck a thrilling 101-run stand with MS Dhoni to help CSK win with two balls to spare.

In the last three CSK matches, Rayudu has stitched together crucial partnerships and that is making all the difference for the two-time champions. CSK is the only team this season to have successfully chased down 200-plus targets twice. To win consistently in any format, you need partnerships and Rayudu is working towards exactly that.

After Dhoni finished the RCB game with the six, attention shifted purely to the Dhoni's return as a finisher. But one must not ignore the fact that Rayudu has been more consistent than any of the players of the current Indian team. In the end, the winner will be the Indian team, with the major tour of England coming up next and then the 2019 World Cup.

 

"To win consistently in any format, a team needs partnerships and the Dhoni-Rayudu combo is just working too well. Sometimes when you are batting alone with a particular batsman, your game moves up a notch even without you realizing. The two seem to be bringing out the best out of each other," Former India captain Kris Srikkanth said.

 

Rayudu has certainly caught the eye of the selectors at the moment, especially MSK Prasad, chairman of the national selection committee. "I am excited about his form. He has come out all guns blazing and gives us a few more options," he said.

None of Pandya, Pandey or Jadhav have produced a match-winning performance so far in IPL 2018. With half the tournament over, Rayudu is the orange cap holder (leading run scorer), while the other middle-order prospects of the Indian team are not even in his vicinity.

Watching the 32-year-old's performance in IPL 2018, Mumbai, who are placed third from the bottom, will be regretting letting Rayudu go. They probably gave up on him way too soon and that turned out to be a boon to CSK. Hopefully it will be one for Team India as well.

 

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