"An opportunity to play with some of the best players in the world" is what has made Hyderabad's highly talented batsman Ambati Thirupati Rayudu join the "rebel" Indian Cricket League (ICL).
"It's not because of frustration or any other reason that I've joined the ICL. I've been doing pretty well as a cricketer and there is no reason for me to feel despondent or pessimistic. I've joined the ICL simply because it's a good opportunity to play with and against some of the finest players in international cricket," the 22-year-old Rayudu told rediff.com
"I don't think my decision to join the ICL will spoil my chances of playing for the country in future. I'm very hopeful that I'll realise my dream of playing for Team India one day," he said, when asked whether he was aware that his move to join the "rebels" would virtually end all his chances of representing India.
Is it the lure of money, if not the disappointment or frustration at having failed to live up to his early promise that has drawn Rayudu to the ICL? "No, no. Nothing of that sort. I'm being neither frustrated nor greedy. Cricket is my passion and I think this is a good opportunity to play with some of the renowned players of the world I've grown up admiring," he said.
Rayudu was the most talked-about young batsman in India in the early 2000s. In 2001, the teenager scored a scintillating 210 off 232 balls out of Hyderabad's first innings total of 353 against Andhra Pradesh in the Ranji Trophy and then followed it with an unbeaten 159 from 161 balls in the second essay.
He became the youngest ever cricketer in the history of the game to score a hundred and a double hundred in a first-class match. He was 17 years and 55 days on the opening day of that match. Had he been a few days younger, Rayudu would have become the youngest double-centurion in the Ranji Trophy.
The record is owned by Reetinder Singh Sodhi, (who was 17 years and 16 days old when he essayed an undefeated 200 for Punjab against Delhi in 1997-98); Sodhi, too, has joined the ICL.
Rayudu in that game did become the youngest Indian to score a century in each innings of a first-class fixture, surpassing Nari Contractor, who notched up 152 and 102 not out at the age of 18 years and 261 days in 1952-'53.
Rayudu then toured England with the India Under-19 team in 2002. He dominated the one-day series which India won 3-0. He scored 34 in the first one-dayer and 80 off 75 deliveries in the second. The third game saw Rayudu's naked aggression with the bat.
England scored 303. Rayudu opened the innings and hit 177 not out off 137 balls and helped India complete the whitewash. "In Rayudu... India look to have unearthed a genuine star for the future," wrote the BBC.
Rayudu scored just 15, 9 and 13 in the first three innings of the Test series that preceded the one-dayers. In fact, so poor was his form that the then India Under-19 coach Robin Singh had to drop him. "I didn't consider him for the third and final Test. The idea was to whet his appetite for runs and make him bounce back with a vengeance in the one-day series," Robin Singh told this correspondent then. Rayudu, of course, delivered. And how!
Unfortunately, most of what Rayudu has produced in his subsequent career for Hyderabad as well India Under-19 and India 'A' has been nothing short of an anti-climax, with a few flashes of brilliance here and there.
He failed to make the cut for the ongoing India A tour, and was in danger of becoming one of the forgotten ones, when this signing on with the ICL focused the spotlight back on him.