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Suresh Raina, the quiet force behind the success of Chennai Super Kings

The only thing constant in life is change and so has been the case for most of the franchises in the Indian Premier League, except Chennai Super Kings whose core group has remained relatively the same throughout all the editions of the league. One name which provides this element of constancy to the CSK line-up is Suresh Kumar Raina. He may not have the swagger of Gayle, the brashness of Kohli or the class of Rohit Sharma but he is there, in the right place at the right time. Much like his teammates Michael Hussey and M.S. Dhoni, he is the go-to guy for the Super Kings.

Struggling against the short ball, Raina could manage only 27 runs in 7 innings in England.

At 26, he has the the better part of his career left to prove himself in Test cricket, although no one can take that 120 off 192 balls against Sri Lanka on debut away from him. At one point, it seemed he had cemented his place in the playing eleven, until England happened. During that much forgettable tour of England, Anderson and co. literally toyed with him. Caught up in ducking the short-pitched deliveries, Raina hardly moved his feet and succumbed to the ones moving outside off, eventually getting caught a number of times in the slips. It was the same story everywhere during that tour which he rounded off with a pair (surprisingly, getting out to Graeme Swann both the times at The Oval), eventually losing the spot in the Test squad. But that was then. In the meanwhile, he did continue his good run in the ODIs and made up quite a lot for his failure in the Tests with a ‘Man of the Series’ performance against the same English attack when they toured India.

He isn’t the one who gatecrashes the party and steals everyone else’s thunder. He builds, takes his own time and paces the innings brilliantly. Probably that’s why, time and again, he has insisted that in international cricket, he would like to bat higher up the order and play more overs but with a reputation of being the quintessential finisher, he suffers from being indispensable to the Indian team at number 5, 6 or 7. By his own admission, he relishes the opportunity of batting at number 3 for the Super Kings and has batted for Uttar Pradesh in first-class cricket at the same position quite often but with the current Indian line-up clicking, he may get to appease this urge of his only in the shorter formats of the game.

Talking of shorter formats, T20 and especially the IPL has become Raina’s forte and his saviour of sorts. It has given him the freedom to play his own game. Throughout all the editions of IPL, Raina has averaged (34.84 in 92 games) more than what he does for India (33.6 in 36 games) with impeccable consistency. The century he scored against the Kings XI Punjab underlines his appetite for runs. It was this constant itch in his mind to complete what he couldn’t in Centurion back in 2009.

Raina, exulted after scoring his maiden IPL century

On April 30 that year, after hitting the ball past cover for four, Raina raised his arms to celebrate what he thought would be his maiden IPL century only to find out later that the electronic scoreboard had got it all wrong. Not realising that he hadn’t reached three figures (still on 98), Raina scooped the next ball to backward point, eventually getting caught. Maybe, it just wasn’t meant to be that day. Four years later, he stood again on that bridge which he hasn’t been able to cross. This time, he didn’t leave it to technology. While on 97, he took a double off the next ball. He ran hard, shouted to the non-striker for a second, almost snatching those two runs from the claws of destiny and reached home safely. He realized he had finally made it. He played a safe shot the next ball and reached that elusive landmark with a single, in the process becoming the first Indian score a century in IPL this season.

It may have taken him 4 years to achieve this milestone but it’s very apt that he got it at Chepauk. In that sweltering unforgiving Chennai heat, he played an innings so typical of him. He drove, he cut, he lofted and ran indefatigably. By the end of his innings, the yellow jersey had a tinge of brown, testimony to the diving efforts he made on the pitch. His doggedness is typical of someone who has spent his grooming years in the tough environment of the Sports College in Uttar Pradesh, where due to the lack of facilities, the only way to make it big is to have an unyielding determination.

It’s like the coming of age for a guy who started alongside the likes of Hayden, Fleming, Hussey and Dhoni as a 21 year old in IPL and through these 6 seasons, graduated higher up the ranks. A lot of credit for this is attributed to the trust shown by the leadership in his abilities as a T20 player. How his Test career turns out still remains to be seen but when he is bleeding blue or blazing yellow, he is in a realm of himself. For the Super Kings, he has arrived to the party finally this season and he sure does look to make the most of it.