An ode to Suresh Raina - India's trusted second fiddle
In the two games at this World Cup that have mattered for India, against Pakistan and against Bangladesh, the Man of the Match award has been bagged by Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma respectively. However, there was one innings that made a significant difference in swinging the tide India’s way on both occasions – the supporting role played by Suresh Raina.
There is much to like about Raina on the field of play. He barely wastes any time to get going with the bat. He’s always there to provide a few reliable overs for skipper MS Dhoni when one of the frontline bowlers has failed. There is always Raina’s fielding making a difference.
But, perhaps the lasting image of Raina the cricketer will be the one that enjoys the success of his mates – maybe more than his own. Be it celebrating Kohli’s century against Pakistan before the man himself or almost always being the first one to congratulate a bowler after a wicket, or a fielder after a catch. Raina sometimes covers half the length of a field, just so that he can tap a Mohit Sharma or a Mohammad Shami on the back after they’ve completed a good bit of fielding.
In a batting line-up comprising Rohit, Shikhar Dhawan, Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane, Raina often comes into the scheme of things having to go for the jugular right from the outset. And it’s a role that he performs with elan. Raina’s resurgence began with the arrival of the Indian Premier League in 2008. Since then, his performances with both Chennai Super Kings and the Indian team have catapulted his stock.
Even in the 2011 World Cup, Raina played two priceless innings when the chips were down. He walked in to a pressure cooker situation in the quarter final against Australia with 75 runs needed at run-a-ball as the last recognized batsman, and played a wonderful supporting hand to Yuvraj Singh, as India cantered to victory with Raina contributing an invaluable 28 ball 34. In the semifinal against Pakistan, it was another crucial innings that saw Raina shepherd the tail through a large part of the last ten overs, ultimately getting India to a respectable total of 260, which turned out to be 29 runs too many for Pakistan.
Mentorship from stalwarts
In this tournament, Raina has played three defining innings, and that is in no small part down to the fact that he’s at a stage in his career where he appreciates his flaws, works his way around them and most importantly, has an incredibly cool head on his shoulders.
Raina credits a large chunk of his improvement to the large amount of guidance that he has got from the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Yuvraj Singh. But undoubtedly the biggest influence on Raina’s batting has been his captain, Dhoni. Be it for Chennai or for the national team, Raina has always been Dhoni’s most trusted lieutenant.
The belief that Dhoni has shown in the 28-year-old from Ghaziabad has been repaid in no small part, with match-turning contributions in two huge games in this very World Cup, against Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Two crucial knocks
He walked in at the fall of Shikhar Dhawan’s wicket in the 30th over against Pakistan, with the team needing a flourish. The need for that flourish was accentuated by the fact that Kohli was uncharacteristically jerky in the way he was going about things. Up stepped Raina with a 56-ball 74 that got India to the 300 mark. After relative failures against South Africa and the West Indies, Raina walked in against Zimbabwe at Auckland, knowing that a contribution there would send him into the knockout stages in good stead.
An innings that started with a few wild swipes ended happily for Raina as his unbeaten 110, in which he was cradled all through the way by Dhoni ensured India finished the group stages unbeaten. But as a lot of people will acknowledge, today’s game was set up as much by Raina as it was by Rohit Sharma. With India three down for 115 in 28 overs, it was imperative that Raina scored runs freely, while also ensuring that he kept his wicket intact.
Job done, by the time that he was heading back to the pavilion, India were healthily poised for a final assault, standing at 237/4 with a little more than six overs to go.
Raina has played as much a role in this World Cup as the man he said he wanted to emulate, Yuvraj, did in the 2011 World Cup. Raina has always been on the lookout for runs, never missing the opportunity to turn ones into twos or twos into threes. Today as well, when Mashrafe Mortaza delivered all of his less-than-penetrative stuff at Raina, not an opportunity was missed, with the Bangladesh fielders being sent on a leather hunt.
As much as Rohit Sharma will take all the headlines for a brilliant century, Rohit himself will acknowledge that his knock would not have had the impact it did, had it not been for a timely intervention from the man who’s making a habit out of playing crucial knocks on the big stage without hogging credit – Suresh Raina.