‘My ultimate goal is to play in Tests’

K. PICHUMANI

“Cricket gets monotonous when you play one innings over four days; you have more fun on good, sporting wickets,” Ambati Rayudu tells S. Ram Mahesh.

A mbati Rayudu is that rare domestic Indian batsman — one whose runs don’t come primarily on flat tracks. He bats a lot at Moti Bagh in Vadodara, where the ball swings, seams, and bounces. He mightn’t churn out double and triple hundreds, but the runs he makes are first-rate runs. They confirm the initial impression of a special talent — he was spoken of as a future Indian cricketer back in 2002, when, at 16, he scored a match-winning 177 in an under-19 one-day game against England in Taunton.

Rayudu hasn’t had the smoothest career path — he was nearly lost to the system when he joined the unsanctioned Indian Cricket League in 2007 — but things have never been better. Now 27, he has stability and success in Baroda, reward and recognition from the IPL. He received his first call-up to the national squad, for the Twenty20 Internationals against England in December 2012; his performance for the ‘A’ team abroad, his century in New Zealand in 2012 for instance, holds out the promise of higher honours.

The Baroda captain spoke to Sportstar during the Ranji Trophy match against Tamil Nadu in Vadodara, in which he made 54 and 66 in typically bowling-friendly conditions, with his side in trouble. “I’ve never really done an interview before,” he says, “I mean I’ve done a couple of short ones for the Mumbai Indians, but this is the first real one.”

Question: You first came to attention as a teenage prodigy. Have you progressed as you’d have wanted?

Answer: I’ve matured a lot over the years. I am in more control of my game at the moment and I’m happy that I’ve been doing well for Baroda.

What do you most love about batting?

For me batting is all about the challenge — the opposition or the conditions. This match gives me more satisfaction than scoring huge runs on a flat track.

You play a lot of your matches at Moti Bagh, where the ball moves and bounces. How have you had success?

Even earlier, when I used to play in Hyderabad at the Gymkhana, that was a really sporting wicket. It used to bounce and move — we used to get teams all out for 150-160. I failed totally in one season on that wicket. I think it was in 2005. So I took it up as a challenge, it really motivated me to improve my technique. I wanted to know how to play on a green top.

How did you set about learning to play in such conditions? For instance, how did you replicate the moving ball in training?

I practised a lot with a plastic ball, which moves. We also used to play and train on the centre wicket in Gymkhana. It was just a lot of work in those conditions. You learn what shots to play, what you can’t, how to leave the ball. From there coming to Moti Bagh actually felt like coming back home. Many people asked me, ‘Why Baroda? It’s not easy to score there’. But I wanted to play for a really good team and Baroda is a very good team. And playing on this wicket for the last three years has helped, like when we went to New Zealand, where the conditions are very similar.

Do you think more domestic cricket should be played on such pitches, where the bowlers have something to work with? Will that help develop better batsmen?

I’m sure you’ll improve as a cricketer on such wickets. You’ll also enjoy the game a lot more. Otherwise it becomes monotonous, you play one innings over four days. I don’t think that’s fun. I wouldn’t enjoy playing on a flat track for four days.

Who have been the toughest bowlers you have faced in domestic cricket?

There are some who are not big names but really know how to work with the SG Test ball. That’s the key in domestic cricket. Someone who has really troubled me is Basant Mohanty of Odisha. He’s top class with this ball. I don’t think he’d be as good with the Kookaburra, but he can really work with the SG Test.

What about spinners? You have a reputation as a spinner slayer. Has any spinner challenged you?

No (laughs).

Are you happy with what the IPL has given domestic cricketers?

Definitely. It’s good to be seen on TV, for people to see how you play. But four-day cricket is still real cricket (for domestic cricketers). I’m sure that if somebody is doing well in four-day cricket on good, sporting tracks, he’ll definitely do well in the IPL also.

Playing for Mumbai Indians, have you picked Tendulkar’s brains about batting?

Yes, I have spoken to him many times. All he had to tell me was ‘be instinctive and you don’t need to do much’. Whenever I’m really playing well, it’s always on instinct. I don’t have to think ‘I’ll leave this ball’ or ‘I’ll play this ball’. It’s on instinct.

What gives you the feeling that ‘you’re in’ on a particular day?

When I’m batting well, I generally tend to pick the ball early and have a lot of time. So when I notice that while batting, I feel like I’m in the zone to do well.

What are your pre-match routines?

I just try and be as calm as possible. I don’t really do any work that is too stressful. I like to have my own time, perhaps watch TV or watch a movie. I like not to do anything.

How particular are you about your batting gear?

I’m very choosy about my bats. I use a light bat, of 1140 grams. For me how the bat picks up is the most important thing. I’m not really bothered about other equipment.

You’ve been picked for the Twenty20s, but surely playing Test cricket is the ambition?

Absolutely. I would love to play Test cricket. That’s my ultimate goal. But any break into the national team is very encouraging. I’m very happy that the selectors have me in their eye and that’s a big motivation.

You average about 44 in first-class cricket, but in difficult conditions. Does that affect you? Also in terms of selection. If one looks just at numbers…

I think they (the selectors) will take it into consideration. When you see people suddenly scoring huge runs, you are overshadowed, but the quality of cricket is entirely different. But I am really happy that when you get a chance on a tour abroad, that’s where people notice what you can do, and I am happy that I have done well in really challenging conditions. That (‘A’ team) Test match in New Zealand, we were really struggling. That gives you a lot of satisfaction.

Do you think going to the ICL cost you? Why did you choose to go? Were you unhappy with the system?

I was very young then. Maybe I wasn’t thinking right. I don’t want to dwell on it much.

As a batsman, failure happens quite often — especially in bowling-friendly conditions. How do you cope?

Sometimes you feel gutted and disgusted. You feel you have prepared so much, all you can get is 50 or 60 or 70. It’s frustrating to be honest. You get over it because before you realise it you get another innings in these conditions. You don’t have to ponder for three days, (given how quickly wickets fall here) you can bat before lunch the next day.

How do you unwind off the field?

I watch a lot of movies; I watch even the really bad ones. I do a lot of photography. Maybe you can call me an amateur photographer. I feel I am good at it. I own a Canon Eos 550 D camera, and I do it pretty regularly. I actually like fashion photography (laughs), I have all the equipment at home, all the lighting. In photography you either capture the image or create the image. I like creating the image more than capturing it. A lot of my friends come, they have a lot of fun.

Most of their Facebook pages are filled with my photos. We do a lot of travelling, my friends and I. When I am off cricket, I am totally off. These are friends from school, they don’t know anything about cricket. It’s a totally different world. I am also a big foodie. I eat everything, but I also train very hard.