Rayudu nonchalant ahead of the IPL final

As the Chennai Super Kings reached Wankhede Stadium for its last training session of the Indian Premier League, Ambati Rayudu was amongst the first players to take the field. That the rehearsal for Sunday’s closing ceremony was going on a few yards behind him didn’t bother him.

Ambati Rayudu and Faf du Plessis at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai on Saturday.   -  Amit Bendre

As the Chennai Super Kings reached Wankhede Stadium for its last training session of the Indian Premier League, Ambati Rayudu was amongst the first players to take the field. That the rehearsal for Sunday’s closing ceremony was going on a few yards behind him didn’t bother him. Rayudu continued to tonk throw-downs by batting coach Mike Hussey in his trademark nonchalant way.

The biggest gain for the Super Kings during its comeback season has been Rayudu’s inclusion in the squad. And the domestic veteran has emerged as the X-factor for a team of ageing superstars, becoming the highest run-getter for the franchise. With a hefty tally of 586 runs from 15 innings, Rayudu will be keen to sign off the season with yet another telling contribution against Sunrisers Hyderabad in the summit clash.

CSK’s opposition and the venue of the final, both the factors go in Rayudu’s favour as far as continuing to anchor the Super Kings’ line-up. When it comes to the Sunrisers, a first-ball dismissal during Tuesday’s qualifier was an aberration of sorts. After all, Rayudu was the bane in both the league matches for the best bowling attack of the tournament.

In his hometown in Hyderabad in April, batting at No. 4, Rayudu smashed a 37-ball 79 to set up Chennai Super Kings' famous win. He was so harsh on the Sunrisers' spin duo of Shakib Al Hasan and leggie Rashid Khan that he fetched 39 runs off the 19 balls he faced from the spinners.

If his run out prevented his march to the final in the final, he ensured he didn't miss out on it when the Sunrisers travelled to Pune, CSK’s adopted home for the season. Opening the innings, Rayudu tormented the Sunrisers attack by notching up his maiden IPL hundred.

If Saturday’s training was an indication, Rayudu will regain his opening slot along with Shane Watson. And the soft-spoken batsman will be gunning to make it count at a venue where he began his resurgence as a top-level cricketer.

Having returned from the unofficial Indian Cricket League folds back into the mainstream in 2009, Rayudu was latched on by Sachin Tendulkar's Mumbai Indians. From 2010 to last year, the former under-19 sensation was a permanent fixture in MI’s final eleven and a favourite of the Wankhede crowd.

For the last two years, Rayudu had been plagued by a knee injury, which resulted in him losing his place in India's ODI side. Having earned a recall in India's set-up, Rayudu will be eager to mark the big occasion with a big knock. If he does that, Sunrisers will have plenty to ponder.

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