Historically, CSK have assembled a star-studded batting unit and as a result, the fans or critics have never fret about their prospects ahead of a season. However, that hasn’t been the case since their comeback in 2018 since the franchise formed a side, which has focused more on experience rather than youth.
Naturally, this meant that CSK had more retired players or those nearing the end of their time in International cricket. This year, even though all the cricketers were under the same bucket due to the COVID-19 pandemic, analysts raised their scepticism over CSK since a lot of their players like Shane Watson, Ambati Rayudu, Murali Vijay and MS Dhoni hadn’t played much cricket over the past year or so.
On Saturday, one of those players shut the doubters in style like CSK have been doing for the past three seasons. It was none other than Ambati Rayudu. Having retired in controversial circumstances post the Indian selectors’ decision to drop him from the World Cup, Rayudu had certainly something to prove.
The 34-year-old batsman came into the middle when CSK were under the pump at 6-2 at the end of two overs in the opener against Mumbai Indians. Chasing 163 for victory, CSK were given early jolts with the duo of Trent Boult and James Pattinson getting enough movement to trouble both Shane Watson and Murali Vijay.
Playing fast bowlers has always been a question mark for Rayudu as much as he has been appreciated for his ability to play spin bowling. It could be said that his concerns against pace bowling were, in fact, a key reason for the Indian selectors not opting for Rayudu when it came to the World Cup in England. While IPL 2019 was overall an inferior year when compared to the stellar exploits in IPL 2018, his numbers against pace had also come down quite drastically.
However, Rayudu passed the new-ball test against MI successfully by launching a mini counter-attack during the Powerplay overs while Faf du Plessis was taking his time at the other end. Rayudu ended the Powerplay phase with a promising 20 runs off 14 balls. Then when the spinners came on, Rayudu’s gifted skill-set came into the play as he started to dominate the proceedings.
Like the former Indian team’s batting coach Sanjay Bangar pointed out during commentary, Rayudu used his feet superbly to both go back and use the depth of the crease and also to advance down the track. This helped CSK to gain momentum as both Rayudu and du Plessis started to comfortably rotate the strike with dew also causing a lot of trouble for the Mumbai spinners.
On Mumbai’s part, they also failed to ask Rayudu enough questions on the back-foot as they let him rotate strike on the rare occasion the ball was pitched further down the track than the good length area. As the statistics reflected, Rayudu had to only play 11 balls on the back-foot, off which he scored eight runs. As mentioned earlier, much of his work was done on the front-foot or even by advancing down the track against both the spinners and fast-bowlers.
Ambati Rayudu's 48-ball 71 was a brilliant knock, but it was also aided by some listless #MI bowling.
He was required to play just 6 balls off the back foot against seam in the game.
— Stat Doctor🩺 (@stat_doctor) September 19, 2020
The Guntur-born batsman especially took a liking to Rahul Chahar’s leg-spin as he scored 22 runs off 12 balls. Rayudu did get out to Chahar eventually after scoring 71 runs off 48 balls but CSK had seized the initiative by then. Du Plessis stayed till the end while the duo of Ravindra Jadeja and Sam Curran came up with some lusty blows to help CSK seal a comfortable 5-wicket victory with four balls to spare.
Rayudu’s knock would have come as a huge relief for CSK as he is effectively replacing Suresh Raina’s role. Overall, he made 37 off 22 balls against the spinners as compared to 34 off 26 balls against the fast bowlers on Saturday. Although the likes of du Plessis and Jadeja are pretty good against spin bowling, none are as accomplished as Rayudu. As the tracks become slower by the back-end of this season, Rayudu’s role will become even more prominent.
Even if not now, there will be concerns if Murali Vijay’s form doesn’t improve after a string of games. After all, CSK would have opened with Shane Watson and Faf Du Plessis with Raina batting at No.3 if he was available.
With Raina having to pull out due to personal reasons, the top three has had to shuffle a bit in order to try and get the right combination. If Rayudu can continue to produce such knocks through this tournament, it will be one problem lesser for CSK as he and Kedar Jadhav had forgettable campaigns last year. Both the experienced middle-order batsmen struggled to even maintain a strike-rate above 100.
In the 2018 IPL season, Rayudu came up with 602 runs from 16 knocks at a strike-rate of 149.75. CSK would be hoping that he can reproduce at least 70% of that form as it would go a long way in the franchise making the play-offs or even going on to win the title just like they did two seasons ago.