Since the past two days, the cricketing world has been abuzz with the sudden retirement of Ambati Rayudu, who decided to hang up his boots after being snubbed by the selectors. Time and again, the BCCI and the Indian team management (read Kohli, Shastri and co) have made a mockery of their own people by taking ad-hoc decisions. Let’s take a look at the sequence of events leading to Rayudu’s shock retirement.
About a year ago, Kohli issued a statement that Rayudu is the answer to India’s middle order woes . Things were rosy until the New Zealand tour in January 2019 where Rayudu has scored a Man-of-the Match 90 after India were 18/4 and helped the team put up a good total. With just 5 ODIs to go in a home series against Australia , and an average of 48 with 3 centuries and 10 fifties , Rayudu looked to be a certainty at no.4 . But things didn’t go well in the home series against Australia. Rayudu couldn’t do much in the first two matches and he was dropped for the next three matches. Kohli did a U turn this time and said that the middle order needed “solidification”. In quite a few matches, Rayudu had failed to up the scoring in certain situations and I guess this had been his undoing. The Indian squad was named in the middle of the IPL and as per chairman of selectors MSK Prasad, the “3 dimensional” Vijay Shankar was selected over Rayudu and Rishabh Pant for the no.4 slot.
Then, came the “3-D” moment on Twitter. An understandably disappointed Rayudu tweeted that he had just ordered a set of 3D glasses to watch the World Cup. This was a tongue-in-cheek jibe at MSK Prasad’s justification. Rishabh Pant was silent on social media and continued his good form in the IPL and smashed a few fifties to build a strong case for himself. Both Rayudu and Pant were named in the reserve list for the World Cup. When Dhawan got injured, Pant was asked to join the squad. When Vijay Shankar got injured, out of nowhere, opener Mayank Agarwal , who was not even in the reserve list, got selected ahead of Rayudu and a day later, Rayudu announced his retirement.
Firstly, let’s try to understand the plausible explanation behind choosing Mayank over Rayudu. The middle order has always been a concern going into the World Cup. While Vijay Shankar was supposed to be the No.4 at the time of his selection, things changed in the warm-up matches. KL Rahul got a century at 4 in a practice match and became the default no.4 choice for the first two matches. Interestingly, Rahul had made it to the team as a third back-up opener. The 3-dimensional Shankar doesn’t play the first two matches. Dhawan’s injury forces Rahul to open the innings and Vijay Shankar gets back at no.4. He doesn’t do well in two matches and is replaced by Pant. Pant puts in a decent effort in both the matches. India’s weakest link expectedly has been the middle order with both Dhoni and Jadhav not in the best of form.
Despite all this, when Vijay Shankar gets ruled out, the selectors in consultation with the team management bring in Mayank. The explanation offered is Mayank is a back-up opener as Rahul has had an injury scare. Nothing wrong but is the opener the problem or the middle-order? From now onwards, there is a 3 day gap between each match and in case Rahul unfortunately gets injured, the guy can always come in. Clearly, the selectors and the team management didn’t want Rayudu. Why pick him in the reserve list and not give him his due especially when a second player has got injured? The 3D comment seems to have hurt everyone’s ego and Rayudu seems to have been “punished”.
The problem does not lie with the axing of Rayudu. There has been no communication made to the player over why he was dropped. This is a typical problem which we also see in the corporate world. We do not want to be transparent. Bad news is communicated in the worst possible form ( the incumbent comes to know of it through public announcements). Had Rayudu been spoken to by the selectors, then I am sure the “3-D” tweet would not have come in. In retrospect, the tweet was Rayudu’s cricketing death-knell. Had both parties kept their egos aside, we could have seen an attempt to solve the middle -order problem in the larger interest of the team and the World Cup.
India needed an experienced proper no.4 going into the World Cup. The likes of Morgan and Steve Smith occupy this position. But our team management let ego come in the way and now we have a risky proposition again. Why pick Rayudu in the reserve list if he was never in contention? Why not pick Shreyas Iyer, Rahane, Manish Pandey etc in that case? The BCCI and the team management never seem to stop behaving like cartoons. The problem with the Kohli-Shastri regime is too many selection blunders have cost the team dearly in recent times ( Bhuvi was dropped in a South Africa test, Rohit Sharma played ahead of Rahane in the same series). Let’s hope that the middle-order does not come to haunt India in either the semis or the finals. If it does, Kohli has no one else to blame other than himself. Ego and flawed logic can cost us the World Cup.
Let’s come back to Rayudu. Once he had been dropped from the squad, he could have just stayed silent and let his bat do the talking. But instead, he did the exact opposite. I wish he had consulted some senior player like VVS Laxman before tweeting. VVS was dropped from the 2003 World Cup but chose to put his disappointment behind and represented the county till 2013. Knee-jerk reactions backfire more often than not. The best way to weather a storm is to let it pass and live to fight another day. But Rayudu decided to be a social media hero.
This is not the first time Rayudu has reacted emotionally when the going became tough. Rayudu was tipped to be the next Tendulkar in his under -19 days. But he had a few disappointing Ranji seasons and had a brawl on the cricket pitch with Arjun Yadav, Shivlal Yadav’s ( former chairman of selectors) son. Amidst all this , he decided to join the rebel ICL at age 25. The others who joined were either India discards or people who had a very remote chance of playing for India. Rayudu was the surprise as he still had age on his side and one good Ranji season could have brought his national team aspirations back on track. But he decided to give in to the lure of playing with international players on prime time TV.
The Rayudu story is a classic case of everything wrong with Indian cricket. Talent needs to be nurtured and given a long rope. There should be a systematic assessment of the junior cricketers with specific performance plans for at least the first three years of transition from under-19. Everyone wants ready-made talent without wanting to invest time. Transparency in communicating decisions needs to happen. Indian society never celebrates failed attempts. Failures are still a problem and looked down upon. By incurring the wrath of the selectors and the team management, Rayudu’s future cricket options have also become bleak. This scenario could have been easily avoided if there were transparent chats and personalized counselling given. But since we cannot take sarcasm with a pinch of salt, we make a mess of things. The World Cup will soon be over and Rayudu will be a forgotten man but unless Indian cricket makes a systemic correction and works on logic, merit rather than ad-hoc random choices, we will continue to see such sad ends to cricketing careers. Rayudu for his bad reactions is equally to blame in this case but seeking advice would have been better for the overall benefit of Indian cricket.
Let’s hope that the middle order ghost doesn’t re-surface in the semis or the finals. Kohli and Rohit will have to continue amassing runs in these two games and hopefully, Pant, Dhoni and co will make bigger contributions. Else, the Men in Blue will bleed and the Shastri/Kohli/MSK trio will have no option but to wear 3D glasses on their return flight.