Ambati Rayudu interview: On IPL 2024, his stint at CSK and dabbling in politics

Ambati Rayudu interview: On IPL 2024, his stint at CSK and dabbling in politics

The six-time IPL champion speaks about being a cricket commentator and reminisces about his time with MS Dhoni and the Chennai Super Kings

Published - May 22, 2024 04:09 pm IST

A lot can change in a year; Ambati Rayudu knows that.

Last May, he was jumping with joy at the Chennai Super Kings’ dugout in Ahmedabad, having contributed to one of IPL’s most memorable finals that the men in yellow won off the last ball. Late into the night, MS Dhoni would receive the trophy and hand it over to a beaming Rayudu in his last IPL match as a cricket player.

Ambati Rayudu during a Star Sports event in Hyderabad

Ambati Rayudu during a Star Sports event in Hyderabad

This May, Rayudu — now a commentator with Star Sports and talking about the game with as much passion as he once played it — was desolate, as he saw his former team get knocked out of TATA IPL 2024 on a rainy Saturday evening in Bangalore. In a video that is now going viral among cricket fans, Rayudu sits, his face buried in his hands, in disbelief.

Rayudu was showing his emotions, like he has always done. “Yes, I am an emotional being,” he tells me over a virtual conversation, a day before the CSK-RCB match, “I’ve always wanted things to be fair, and always fought for what I believe is right.”

Ambati Rayudu

Ambati Rayudu

Currently, the six-time IPL champion is busy with a hectic commentary stint. It is not something he would have fancied when he was a player, but Rayudu is enjoying it nevertheless. “I didn’t know if I would be good at it, because I hardly spoke during my playing days. But, with friends and family, I used to love discussing cricket. I pride myself as being a good student of the game and trying to understand its various intricacies. Broadcasting and commentating are new to me and I’m slowly trying to understand how things work, though many a time, I speak from the heart. I’m just happy I am still connected to the sport.”

Batting for CSK

IPL 2024 might have ended on a sour note for CSK, but Dhoni and Jadeja — the two men who were at the crease during the last moments of the recent Bangalore game — have been Chennai’s favourite IPL stars for many years now. Recalling the moments leading up to the famous CSK win of 2023, Rayudu says, “Remember Dhoni lifting Jadeja after he won us the game? We all know what CSK means to Dhoni, but it proved what it meant to Jadeja, who has been the team’s go-to man, be it batting, bowling or fielding.”

Ambati Rayudu and MS Dhoni

Ambati Rayudu and MS Dhoni | Photo Credit: DEEPAK KR

Rayudu was a star with Mumbai Indians in the earlier editions of IPL but has been vocal about his support for Chennai Super Kings, with which he had a successful stint. So, what is the amazing team environment that everyone raves about? “CSK is family. They let you be. At CSK, you are treated just the way you are treated at home; I’m not saying there is no pressure to win, but it’s the way you are treated at home, with parents or siblings. Every player feels like he belongs. The management and the support staff never speaks negatively and never puts you down. Even players who are not playing are constantly looked after; when that happens, you want to give your best. Say, if a player’s capacity is to score a 50 off 20 balls, due to this environment, you would like to do it in 18. This is why many players, who might not have played so well for other franchises, bloom here.” What also helps is the loyalty factor among players; someone like an MS Dhoni has been with the team since its inception. “Even after his retirement, I’m sure he will be associated with the team in a major capacity.”

Chennai love
Ambati Rayudu shares a deep connection with Chennai. He played a lot of under-13 cricket games here, a time he fondly remembers. “We used to stay at Libra Lodge in Triplicane and walk in a line to a nearby mess to have idlis for breakfast and meals for lunch. I have played a lot of junior cricket and then Ranji Trophy at Chepauk. I have enjoyed the food, people and have always felt very emotionally close to people from Chennai.”

Rayudu has been associated with Indian cricket for a long time — playing for India was the most memorable moment of his career — but he feels that the IPL, conceptualised in 2008, has brought the game closer to fans. “They understand T-20 cricket better, and they identify more with the players. The league is also a game-changer in terms of identifying talent. Previously, even if you were a talented player, you could get lost in the system if you are not identified by a certain set of selectors. But the IPL has been a great platform and throws the spotlight on players; a cricketer like Ashutosh Sharma (Punjab Kings) might not have been identified if he played only for the Railways. That’s the beauty of the IPL.”

Ambati Rayudu and Pawan Kalyan during a campaign

Ambati Rayudu and Pawan Kalyan during a campaign | Photo Credit: V RAJU

The cricketer also dabbled in politics for a while, and this election season, he actively supported popular actor and Jana Sena chief Pawan Kalyan. He hopes to play an active role in public life in the future. “I believe sport can be a unifying factor in bringing people together,” says Rayudu, who also runs a foundation in Guntur that helps people from disadvantaged sections of society,“I believe equal opportunities should be available; I have suffered in the past due to a lot of factors. I hope that a player, even without any godfather, should be able to play the sport just based on his or her talent. I’m looking forward to playing an important role in developing Andhra Pradesh as a better place to live in.”

Watch TATA IPL playoffs and final this week on the Star Sports Network

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