In life, you usually want to be in a situation where the feelings you have for someone is reciprocated by the other person in question. If that happens, the relationship blossoms – unlike any other felt before.
It also helps if you are not treated as a second option – an option who is unerringly present to solve all possible muddles but doesn’t quite get the respect or isn’t valued as much as the more glamorous and seemingly obvious alternative.
In a worst-case scenario, you are often the forgotten man when things are sailing smoothly, the first person to be called into action when things go south and then consigned to the earlier reality – a process that keeps repeating regularly.
In most top-level sport, a lot of players might undergo this phase, wherein they feel they aren’t being appreciated enough, especially when at the peak of their powers. Instead, they are overlooked when fortunes plateau and even chastised as the reason for the team’s failures.
Moreover, once their shelf life has apparently dissolved, players are termed expendable with the phrase “no single player is bigger than the team” frequently doing the rounds. While there is some sort of semblance to that statement, it also highlights that top-level athletes are often thrown under the bus when their performances dip because, well, the sporting environment is quite ruthless.
The Chennai Super Kings and Suresh Raina story has perhaps been the anomaly to this pattern – a story that started way back in 2008 but has almost found new leases of life, even when it would’ve been a lot easier to reconcile with a narrative that was on the wane.
The former Indian captain immediately repaid the franchise’s faith, ensuring that they qualified in each of the first four seasons and had two titles to adorn their journey.
In a lot of ways, the Dhoni method at CSK became the blueprint for the national team too. The Raina mantra at CSK was just as crucial, considering that Raina is, well, the greatest batter to have ever donned the CSK colours and has had a role in whatever success the franchise has enjoyed.
To state the sheer number of runs the left-handed batter has plundered might not be required, considering these stats have already been highlighted enough.
However, with the latter probably on the brink of his final game (as a starter or as a substitute) at CSK, it is worth remembering what he stood for. And, of course, what he meant to the franchise, what he still denotes and how he will be revered henceforth.
Over the years, CSK have been portrayed as a side that rarely concentrates on individual accolades. In fact, that particular trait is illustrated by how many of their batters have notched up 600-plus runs a season since the inception of the IPL and how they compare to other franchises.
Of the 15 batters to have accumulated the most runs in a single IPL edition, only one belongs to CSK (Michael Hussey, 2013). Batters from the Punjab Kings and the Royal Challengers Bangalore have done so three and five times, respectively.
Interestingly enough, if the CSK batter is taken out of the equation, the trophy tally of the other teams involved adds up to three, which incidentally, is the number of crowns CSK have in their kitty.
That, more than anything else, suggests that the franchise has had consistent performers throughout an IPL season – performers who have done whatever the team has asked for, even if it has come at the cost of a few individual achievements.
Suresh Raina has been at the heart of everything good CSK have done
Raina, in particular, embodies that approach to the tee. In the first seven editions of the IPL, Raina scored more than 400 runs on each occasion. Rather remarkably, he had a major hand in the twin successes CSK enjoyed during that period.
In 2010, when the Yellow Army were looking to vanquish the ghosts of 2008, Raina stood up as their guardian angel, cracking a sumptuous half-century against the Mumbai Indians in the final.
A year later, Raina was perhaps the reason CSK hauled down RCB’s total in Qualifier 1, with his 50-ball 73-run knock being the difference between a crushing defeat and a sensational victory.
In 2018, when CSK returned to the IPL landscape amid much fanfare, a lot of the attention revolved around Ambati Rayudu and Dhoni – each of whom had brilliant seasons. Rayudu, by the way, became only the second CSK batter (then) to score more than 600 runs in a single edition and Dhoni, well, he was as close to his best as he has been over the past few years.
Raina, rather quietly and unassumingly, had mustered another 445-run season – a season where he also struck at more than 132 runs per 100 balls. The spotlight revolved around Dhoni and Rayudu and understandably so. But again, it was a season about Raina and the thrust he provided at No.3.
Funnily enough, Raina has been such an archetypal team man over the years that his contributions haven’t always been valued adequately (from those outside the CSK circle), for he never really sought the attention. Instead, he was willing to be Dhoni’s closest confidante and an aide that invariably stood up when it mattered.
Speaking of performances on the big stage, Raina has alone scored 714 runs in the IPL play-offs – a tally that he might not be able to add to against KKR but a tally he can be very proud of.
For the CSK faithful, the fact that their Chinna Thala might not take the field in the final of IPL 2021 certainly leaves them wanting more, considering the emotion and history attached.
Remember, Dhoni has been indispensable to this outfit. Raina has been just as vital though. The former Indian skipper wouldn’t have won so much had Raina not been by his side. Similarly, Raina might not have been the IPL behemoth he is had he been captained by someone who didn’t accord Raina the freedom he craved.
In essence, this has been a symbiotic relationship that has galvanized the franchise and has propelled them to unparalleled heights. But it is also a relationship the cricketing community might not enjoy post this season. And, that is perhaps the saddest part.
For long, we have believed that CSK has been personified by the cool, calm, collected and humble nature of Dhoni. Rightly so too. It is, however, also embodied by Raina’s virtues of righteousness, selflessness and the inclination to prioritize the collective over the individual. There are simply no two ways about it.
From that perspective alone, the staunchest of CSK and Raina supporters would want the latter to embrace the field once more, infuse the environment with his infectious optimism and of course, power them to yet another title.
But with Raina not being completely fit, he would be the first to admit that CSK might be better served continuing with Uthappa, even if it comes at his own expense.
That, though, just symbolizes who Raina is – an individual who could’ve sought immense attention for all that he has accomplished in the game but chose not to. All while celebrating his teammates' success as his own.
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And, if this is indeed the end of the CSK-Suresh Raina story, irrespective of whether he plays or not, it has been some journey – a journey that was never seen before, isn’t being witnessed currently and may not be replicated. Ever.