May 14, 2018
An almost un-Indian batsman: It’s a pity that Ambati Rayudu hasn’t always got what he has sought: a spot in the top order. The way the Indian team has lined up, it hasn’t been easy for him but luckily for him, Chennai Super Kings have given them that opportunity and he has been a delight to watch. Even when he hits out, unlike a few who exude a nervous energy, Rayudu gives the impression he is under control. He doesn’t swagger, he doesn’t come across as restless, he doesn’t get too itchy to extend himself – he remains calm. Especially in recent times.
He decimated the IPL’s strongest bowling attack of Sunrisers Hyderabad en route his maiden IPL ton in a table-top clash on Sunday afternoon in Pune. And he did it his way. Unlike many Indian batsmen, he pulls, cuts and uses his feet against spinners. He has the knack of manipulating the ball around, behind square on both sides, but it’s his big hits that stood out from the game. Again, unlike most Indian batsmen, he can go back and across as he showed when he picked a short ball from Siddarth Kaul and absolutely walloped it for a six over midwicket.
At times, when he is playing the horizontal bat shots, he can come across as all arms, but he has pretty good hands too. Like this one time when he lifted Bhuvneshwar Kumar for a six over cover: It was his first attacking shot of the evening, and he just leaned forward, let his hands go through the line of the ball and cradled it up and over, rather effortlessly.
He played the sweeps and down-the-wicket lofted drives against the spinners but all that becomes more effective as he has the ability to rock back and cut the tweakers. At times, he would just lean back and bunt the ball, angling it away for singles. Then, like he did to Rashid Khan, he quickly pressed back and cut it late through backward point for a four. It’s that ability to be good off the front and back foot that makes the spinners often err in length to him. They end up predetermining him, and on his day, Rayudu comes out on top against them.
He does predetermine his strikes against the spinners, as any good batsman would, but he selects his shots pretty well. He chose to sashay down the track to Shakib Al Hasan for a few lofted hits. To Rashid Khan, he either hit him up and over the off-side from the crease or went back to cut. It’s in these little details that his maturity comes through.
He is also one of those batsmen who have the innate confidence to feel that they can triumph against the best. Like when Bhuvneshwar bowled a nip-backer into him and hit his thigh. Rayudu’s response next ball? He pulled a similar delivery over midwicket for a six. It was apt that he remained unbeaten on a well-deserved hundred for this was one of those knocks that showcased the best of his skills and thinking.
Power and panache: It wasn’t all Rayudu as Shane Watson continued his good form this IPL. Over the years we have seen so much of him, that familiarity brings up a few smiles. He unfurled all the shots that we have come to associate with him: the cut off the front foot, the hoick across the line, the drag to the leg side against the spinners, and the big heave-ho off the front foot. Such is his confidence these days that he delays his shot – rather waits a touch before deciding on the shot and so it wasn’t a surprise that he repeatedly picked up the various slower ones and whacked them in style. In the end, it was his body that caught up with him as he failed to rush across in time and was run out but by then he had set the cat among the pigeons.
Chennai would have ended up chasing more had Kane Williamson and Shikhar Dhawan hadn’t fallen almost back-to-back just as the slog had started. Both had done well, threatening to take Hyderabad to 200 by their compact batsmanship but fell at the score on 141, and they only managed 30-odd runs in the final four. And that stung them in the end, though the way Watson and Rayudu strutted around, even 200 perhaps wouldn’t have been safe.