Come rain or shine, Chennai shines for Suresh Raina
If you go by Wikipedia, Suresh Raina is the 265th player to play a Test for India, the 159th ODI cap and the 8th Indian to wear a T20 cap. He has the dubious distinction of being the first Indian to score century on all three formats of the game. A century on test debut was not enough to cement his place on the side. This attacking batsman from Uttar Pradesh was considered a specialist for the shorter formats.
However his form and fitness have been identified as a reason for his exclusion in shorter formats. There are many who doubt if Raina will get to wear the Indian jersey again. A few canny critics also believe that he completes the "Well Left Trinity" with Gautam Gambhir and Yuvraj Singh. To add insult to injury, he was removed from the contracted players of the country.
With due respect to the national jersey, Suresh Raina has always revelled in the yellow jersey.
Suresh Raina represented Chennai Super Kings in the IPL for eight years and his legacy is a loud one.
He is a demigod in Chennai and is known as "Chinna Thala" translating to Small Leader but meaning "The Leader in Reckoning".
He is expected to assist or take over from Thala, The Chief, their captain MS Dhoni. The stardom and fan following Raina enjoys in TN is only next to the CSK captain.
Every odd person in Chennai and the entire catchment area believes that their "Chinna Thala" has been given a raw deal. They turn blind to his Ranji statistics by saying the famous line "Class is Permanent. Form is Temporary".
They belittle the yo-yo test, saying that Raina's fitness needs no proof. They also believe that while they cannot do anything about BCCI, they want his reverence to CSK and this parts of the world kept intact.
He is a regular invitee to educational institutions, cricket camps and has graced both the editions of the TNPL. When there was possibility that he may play in the second TNPL, a vociferous fan mentioned that Raina is too 'godly' to merely play in the league and deserves to be a distinguished guest, none less.
A fortnight ago, the social media was abuzz that Chennai Super Kings which is coming back after its two year hiatus can retain only three players and that the CSK think thank decided on Dhoni, Ashwin and Faf Du Plessis. There was a furore on Twitter and Facebook. The official CSK handle sensed the gravity of the situation and came out with a message that the information was not true. They further assured their fans that they would never let go of Raina in CSK scheme of things.
On his 31st birthday, Suresh Raina had received a barrage of wishes from celebrated cricketers and VIPs across the globe. The first wish on his timeline came from his IPL side, the Chennai Super Kings. He further went on to receive a special video tribute from CSK Fans Association and special graphics from active handles of TNPL sides.
A famous parody account in Twitter "Srini Mama" wished him on his birthday, remembered his expoits for Chennai Super Kings and mentioned that he would try his best to have him for CSK. Within minutes, there was flurry of replies to the tweet. The twitteratti threatened Srini Mama that they would not settle for the best and wanted Raina in the team by hook or crook.
I was discussing with an avid fan of the game, Raina's stardom down south. He, being the star player for their home side in IPL, has had a major say. However his arrival on the scene coincided with the Generation X which takes to all round utility of the cricketers.
His exuberance on the field, his uncanny ability to pick wickets with spin and his hard-hitting ability were all assets.
Raina's class and statistics are too big to term his as Dhoni's to go man who finds no relevance to Kohli's India. India's middle order in shorter formats at least is not tested overseas and is wide open. A left hander may always add more balance and Raina seems to be the ideal choice (Yuvraj Singh also breathes down the neck) to offer finishing touches with the bat, slip down an over or two and be electric on the field.
I met a youngster who performed a special pooja for Raina on his birthday in a famous temple in our city. His fans are clear. "We would love to see him in India colours. But we are itching to see him in yellow in April. We want him to use IPL as a platform to show the selectors what they miss"
As he crosses 31, Raina received a lot of wishes. Three wishes stand out for me. One fan tweeted that he wished Raina like his CSK team mate Michael Hussey peaks his game after 30. His another CSK team mate Mathew Hayden wished him success even beyond his wildest dreams. The third one came from one of his CSK devotees who prayed God to gift him comeback to Indian team and that CSK will take care of him in IPL.
As someone put it "rains may fail in Chennai or fail Chennai. Raina won't."