Suresh Raina: The man with a mission

Biswajit Jha

Life has virtually come full circle for Indian middle-order bat Suresh Raina. It was in this competition-Twenty20 World Cup-last year that Raina had to face one of the most adverse phases of his career. His ability to play quality fast bowlers was questioned, his technique to negotiate short-pitched stuff was doubted. Teams like West Indies, England and Pakistan peppered him with bouncers and Raina had few tricks up his sleeve to counter the monster. His good show in IPL-II in South Africa in 2009 was termed as ‘fluke’ and even the quality of the entire Indian Premier League had come under the scanner.

One year has changed several things. Raina, refusing to take the criticism hands down, worked really hard and the results are there for all to see.

Raina, in trying to exorcise the ghosts of short-pitched bowling, decided to showcase his talent against South Africa, who have the best pace attack, scoring a brilliant century against them at St. Lucia in India’s second group stage match, paving way for India’s entry into the Super Eight stage in the third edition of T20 World Cup.

He is only the third in history of T20 cricket to slam a century and the first Indian to achieve the feat. Before him, only Chris Gayle and Brendon McCullum had scored a ton in the shortest format of the game, which in itself is a tough task considering the fact that there are just 120 legitimate deliveries to face for the entire team.

The two guys who scored centuries before him were openers who had full 20 overs at their disposal. Raina’s feat is even more commendable considering the fact that he is the first middle-order batsman to score a T20 International ton.

It’s not that he completely overcame his deficiency of tackling short-pitch bowling, but he found ways to tackle fast bowlers in the shorter formats. That he is run-hungry was evident from the fact that he went for his century even after scoring 60/70 runs, which often proves to be match-winning score in T20Is.

But, Raina decided to make the most of his good run and stopped only when he had taken his team to a winning position. This very attitude speaks a lot about the man who has seen almost everything in his career even before turning 24.

At a time when cricketers are blamed for not taking their game seriously, Raina has put in a lot of hard work to succeed on the international stage.

A member of Under 19 squad, which also had Robin Uthappa and Shikhar Dhawan in its ranks, Raina was first spotted by the then coach Greg Chappell in 2005, who termed him as a ‘special talent’ and a future star.

Though Raina did not justify Chappell’s observation that time, and was subsequently dropped from the Indian side, his return after the first IPL season in 2008, saw a different Riana altogether. This bloke was more mature and determined to utilize every opportunity that came his way.

Commenting on his work ethics, one of his team-mates said: "It really couldn`t have happened to a more deserving guy."

"We literally have to drag him out of the nets during practice sessions. When a kid puts in so much effort, you`re happy to see him get results," he added.

Raina is also mature enough to understand that a quickfire 30 or 40 won’t help him in establishing himself in the Indian squad. "I made sure that I played till the end. I did not think of hitting early, but concentrated on hitting the loose balls. I was very confident because I had had very good practice session. I knew that if I play 40 to 50 balls, I could score 80 to 90 runs which is what I was doing in the IPL," said the southpaw after hitting the scintillating ton against the Proteas.

Captain MS Dhoni’s faith in him has also helped him flourished as a dependable player both for Indian as well as Chennai Super Kings. "I have been batting at the slot even in the ODIs. Before the World Cup Mahi told me that I will be batting at number 3 and wanted to continue with my form from the IPL. So I was mentally prepared for the task.”

"Batting up the order doesn`t mean that you to don`t go about whacking every ball. You have to respect your opponent and have to pick your bowlers you want to attack."

Asked if he had changed his approach to the game, Raina said, "Initially in international cricket I was getting out in the 30s and 40s and not converting them into big scores. I played a lot of domestic cricket the last two years which has helped me. I think it is important to improve in each and every game."

Ever since he returned to the Indian squad in 2008, barring the 2009 Twenty20 World Cup, Raina has done really well, scoring tons of runs. And thus established himself as one of the best batsmen in shorter format of the game.

Even bowling great Wasim Akram termed him as the best young batsman in the world. “For me, he is the best young batsman in the world. He did well in the Indian Premier League and is keeping up the good work in the Caribbean world championship,” Akram wrote in his column for a sports website.

Though Akram is not ready to compare him with the great Sourav Ganguly, he does not hesitate to declare that the Uttar Pradesh batsman is a superb talent: “Raina is only playing T20s at the moment, let him play Tests and score some runs, then only a comparison with the great Ganguly can be made. Having said that, there is no denying that Raina is immensely gifted,” Akram said.

Though it is too early to compare him with Ganguly, there is no denying the fact that he has heralded himself in world cricket as the best young Indian batsman determined to go to the next level.

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