Ambati Rayudu's fairytale: From the fringes to the forefront
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By the latter half of the 2000s, Ambati Rayudu, still not 25, was already spoken of as a washed-up talent. From one who was touted as a potential India player from the time he was 16, the right-hander from Hyderabad had slipped off the radar into near-oblivion. But even though it seemed like the cricketing world had completely turned its back on Rayudu, a certain Sachin Tendulkar hadn't yet given up on him.
To the extent that Tendulkar personally approached the gifted young batsman and gave him a piece of his mind. An unexpected tete-a-tete that Vijay Paul, Rayudu's long-time coach and mentor, believes was the turning-point in his special ward's beleaguered career.
"Sachin sought him out and his advice was simple. 'You have all the shots in the book. There is no reason for you to be in a hurry to showcase them all. Take some time at the crease and the bowlers will be at your mercy'. When someone as big as Sachin tells you that, you listen," says Paul, who played for Hyderabad in the Ranji Trophy during the 70s and 80s.
He perhaps did listen. For on Monday, Rayudu was picked in an Indian Test squad for the first-time ever. And he will be the only new face in the 17-member party that will travel to South Africa next month.
But things were a lot different back in the summer of 2010. Rayudu had just accepted amnesty from the BCCI and returned to the fold after a controversial, albeit successful, stint in the Indian Cricket League (ICL). Before long, he was roped in by the Mumbai Indians. In Paul's opinion, getting to play under his childhood hero brought a significant attitude change in the child prodigy.
"In Sachin, he finally had a role model at close quarters to emulate. That changed everything. From being a flashy stroke-maker, Rayudu learned to adapt his game based on the game situation," adds Paul.