Ambati Rayudu has found his bearings and a most welcome direction to his first-class career. Playing as a professional, the former India-19 star has proved to be a major force for Baroda in the Ranji Trophy.

Out of the mainstream for two years, because he shifted allegiance to the unsanctioned Indian Cricket League, Rayudu has made a successful comeback after availing the amnesty offered by the establishment.

With 499 runs in nine innings this season, Rayudu (3,687 runs in 60 matches) now looks forward to stretching the good run in the knockout stage beginning with the quarterfinal against Railways at the Moti Bagh Palace ground here on Friday.

So far he has held Baroda's hopes, cracking an unbeaten double century and three half-centuries with 63 fours and nine sixes.

Singled out by former India coach Greg Chappell, as a batsman with immense potential, Rayudu, 25, looked a confident man on the sidelines of the practice facility here on Thursday.

Lavishing praise on Baroda newcomers Jaikishan Kolsawala (262 in nine innings) and Kedar Devdhar (294 in five innings) for their efficient work in the top order for Baroda, and expressing awe and admiration for Yusuf Pathan's calculated knock of 195 (138b, 19x4, 10x6) against Haryana, Rayudu is keen to make every run count from the quarterfinal.

Led by Pinal Shah, Baroda has been well served by left-arm spinner Bhargav Bhatt (29 wickets) and Pathan (22 wickets). The seamers Murtuja Vahora (17 wickets) and Munaf Patel (16 wickets in three matches) have done their bit. It's this bowling combination, the seam attack in particular, which the Railways batsmen have to counter on a surface that enables sideways movement from start to finish.

The flip side is that even the Railways seam attack — Anureet Singh Kathuria, Jai Prakash Yadav and Sanjay Bangar with 61 wickets among them — is capable of causing considerable damage to the home team, just as Uttar Pradesh's Sudeep Tyagi and Bhuvanesh Kumar did, sharing 16 wickets here in November in their team's 32-run win.

Fazal to miss, Kartik fit

Railways will be without opener Faiz Fazal because of his sister's wedding and the Railways selectors have recalled Yere Goud who did not play against Delhi and Bengal. Left-arm spinner Murali Kartik hurt his leg at practice, but said it was not serious enough to make him sit out.

With many seasoned campaigners in its ranks, Railways beat Delhi and Bengal and has sent out a message that it means business, with three full practice sessions since Tuesday.

Keywords: Ranji Trophy

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