Yes, Suresh Raina is not the same anymore
Scores of 6, 29, 0, 5, 10, 16 and 6 have walloped Raina hard. The empty stadiums have swallowed him.
For not too long before even your inconspicuous presence had the aura, not too long ago people queued up to see you, even if you were looking elsewhere. They were clamouring all over the place to shake hands with you; not too long ago, you were what people spoke about…not too long ago, you were the hero.
That long ago is now very long ago. Alone, surrounded by empty space, you hum the monologue you prepared when people hemmed in all over you, lying gaping at almost no one, you are lost, not because you are not trying, not because you do not believe enough, but because people are not bothered.
Your failures are forever under the microscope and you fear failures, so much so that you forget to compete; you fear failures, so much so, you forget the innocence of going out to have fun… it is not the same anymore, your walk is not purposeful, it is a mere trundle without any destination… nothing is the same anymore…Suresh Raina is not the same anymore!
Scores of 6, 29, 0, 5, 10, 16, 6 have walloped Raina hard, the empty stadiums have swallowed him, he is disconsolate, he is mislaid…he is not the same.
It was not always this way. These patches were not in his itinerary when he first forayed into cricket, but for nothing is cricket compared to life; fickle and forever splurging with destiny.
Perhaps the pioneer of the new age of swashbuckling batting, Raina, the man from the small town of Ghaziabad, zoomed through the ranks, scoring runs, winning matches, making his presence felt, forcing people who were looking elsewhere to turn their heads and focus on him. Along the way, he won the prestigious Sunil Gavaskar scholarship which allowed him to train and hone his skills in Australia.
The gagged murmurs were garnering momentum, the muffled voices were now blaring. People believed India had found their next batting superstar. A southpaw who had the skills to dismantle opposition bowling attacks, a shrewd mind which convinced a certain Greg Chappell that he would be an extremely astute captain, and most importantly, a person who could give it all for the team.
98 One Day Internationals for India, many match-winning contributions, plenty of fond memories, and then came the coveted Test cap. Bang…century on debut, people looked at the selectors with skewed eyes, questioning their wisdom for not roping this bright light into Test cricket sooner.
Yes, people were indeed queuing up to click photographs. In ODIs, he even was made captain for the odd series here and there, but Test cricket is a beast - it looks bright from afar, but you approach it, it is nothing but a fleeced lamb staring back at you signalling what lies ahead. Raina marched in, he was trapped, he never knew how to come out, he never knew how to respond to his own beast…the short ball!
The ‘honed’ technique was mercilessly exposed, all the scholarships and rave reviews tanked. People were once again looking at the selectors with skewed eyes, questioning their wisdom for continuing with him.
Ousted from whites, Raina was wounded, but he then found the refuge of the Indian Premier League and T20s. He had to worry about the short ball only once every over and hence changed his stance to work his way around it. Mind you, this was just the patchwork contractors do on roads to hide the potholes, an illusion which is washed away as soon as the next rains pound the cement and gravel away!
But, this patchwork did yield some dividends. Bumper rewards in the IPL established him as one of the best T20 players in the world. He aggregated more than 400 runs in eight seasons and is by far the most consistent product in the shortest format.
There are a few technical changes too: he now rests on his toes so that his movements against that beast are more nimble; he hops back and across and tries to tuck the short ball away, he gets the runs, but never looks settled. But then, you don’t repair what is not broken. Raina never looked for the permanent solution because this patchwork was doing the trick.
Runs were not as frequent and he was not as prolific as before, but he did just about enough to drag along hopes. He has been moulded in the tough grounds of Uttar Pradesh where, if you snooze you lose. Raina was tough and tenacious, but ill-equipped.
Hope is very fickle, it will be your aide as long as you have the goods to keep pandering to it, but as soon as you stumble and your recovery looks tough, it will scoot far away from sight.
The batting prodigy had stumbled, he floundered around for hope, but got a full ball aimed at his stumps instead. His stance was set up for a short ball, he premeditated, but the scrambled mind betrayed him. Stumps uprooted, not by the short ball, but by the full one. In order to survive, Raina had forgotten how to progress!
With other young players bashing on the doors of the selectors, the young bloke-turned veteran was shunted aside after the South Africa ODIs back in 2015, and ever since, it has been one elongated barren patch for him in domestic cricket.
Another lease of life was provided when he was drafted back into the T20 team to take on New Zealand and England, but nothing was same, nothing was convincing, and he was dropped again.
Along the way, the BCCI made it mandatory for players to be fit; the yo-yo test was an instrument to ascertain that the players wearing the badge were able and willing. Raina failed here too, the hope which had scurried away was now only a distant memory.
And then this Ranji Trophy season, the many fitness videos on social media, the plethora of motivational quotes, but beleaguered scores…nothing adds up.
When young players are churning out centuries, double and triple centuries, Raina has managed 72 runs in seven innings. No one seems to be bothered about his form, no one is willing to talk about him…and as the season goes on, no one will even remember Suresh Raina for what he has been, for what he is at the present moment does not merit discussion.
Ahmedabad, 2011: India vs Australia. Had a certain Raina not been there to accompany Yuvraj Singh, India's World Cup dreams would have been shattered.
Mohali, 2011: India vs Pakistan. Had a certain Raina not been there to arrest a mini-slide and push India over the 250-mark, their World Cup dreams would have been shattered.
Does it matter now? For when Raina sits isolated in the dressing room, only faint echoes of those days will toss around in his memory…yes, Suresh Raina is not the same!