Ambati Rayudu plays a shot during the fourth one day international (ODI) cricket match between India and West Indies at the Brabourne Stadium in Mumbai on October 29, 2018. Image Credit: AFP

Dubai: From Dubai to India, Ambati Rayudu has carried his form over the last two months to stake his claim for the coveted No. 4 slot in the Indian team. Staging a comeback into the team through the Asia Cup in Dubai after a gap of nearly two years, Rayudu has impressed everyone — especially Indian skipper Virat Kohli.

The Hyderabadi is now being seen as the ideal candidate for the No. 4 slot in India’s campaign for the 2019 World Cup. Through consistent knocks in the Asia Cup and the ongoing series against the West Indies, which included a century in Mumbai on Monday, Rayudu has almost cemented his slot in India’s middle-order.

With not too many matches left before the cut is applied for the World Cup, it is important for the Indian team to have batsmen who are solid players, especially one who can pace the innings according to the needs of the situation. Kohli feels he has found the right man in Rayudu for the No. 4 slot. While speaking to the media on Rayudu’s century against the West Indies, Kohli said: “Rayudu has taken his opportunity with both hands, and we need to back him till the 2019 World Cup. He reads the game well and he bats with intelligence.”

Speaking about the importance of having Rayudu at No. 4, Kohli said: “It was very important. Hopefully, he has solved all the mysteries of No 4. I guess till the World Cup there will be no questions on No 4. He batted brilliantly [against the West Indies].”

During the Asia Cup, it was Rayudu who ensured that Kohli’s absence was not really felt. Coming into the team after the 2016 series against Zimbabwe, Rayudu began with a knock of 60 against Hong Kong and then hit a crucial unbeaten 31 against arch-rivals Pakistan and also scored 57 against Afghanistan in the tied match.

Rayudu went on to hit 73 against the West Indies in Vishakhapatnam but what impressed Kohli the most is his century in Mumbai. “We have known Rayudu for a long time and he can produce the kind of innings that he did today. That’s probably the reason we got him at No. 4, and he hasn’t disappointed. He has done well in whatever opportunities he has got. He came back in Asia Cup and now he has grabbed the opportunity with both hands.

Now 33, Rayudu cannot be seen as a long-term answer for that slot but based on form, he is the best person for the 2019 World Cup. In World Cup, one needs players who have experience and Rayudu himself has confessed that he is comfortable at that slot. “I don’t think it’s new to me because it’s a position I’ve played a lot in and there’s nothing new they’ve asked me to do. They’ve asked me to go out and play my game,” said Rayudu.

It’s not often noticed that Rayudu claims an impressive average of 51.67 in ODIs. He had begun with a lot of promise but at 21, in his eagerness to play alongside foreign stars, he chose to play for the rebel Indian Cricket League (ICL) in 2007. This almost derailed his career until 2009 when he accepted the Board of Control for Cricket in India’s (BCCI) amnesty offer and starred in the IPL.

Rayudu was 27 and 304 days when he scored a fifty on ODI debut and for a man who has never bothered about age, he may play a pivotal role for India in the World Cup next year.