Suresh Raina, the ultimate team man, deserves to be celebrated on his own merits
Failures for players in the latter halves of their careers can make it easy to forget their glory days. Suresh Raina deserves to be remembered fondly, writes Divy Tripathi.
Anyone who has followed cricket in the last few years would’ve known what was to come when Trent Boult charged in to bowl at Suresh Raina on Sunday in Dubai. The short ball is a weapon that is used to unsettle the batter, to prevent them from scoring or to force them to make a mistake. However, with Raina it seems like another dimension is added to the bouncer: it seems to have a mental hold over him, one which he has struggled to escape throughout his career.
This showed in how uncomfortable Raina looked throughout his brief stay, and he ended up gifting his wicket through a tame shot off the final ball of the over. Over the years, Raina has tried out different ways of surviving against the short ball. His effort brought success on a few occasions, but he had to contend with failures at other times.
What has always stood out is the fact that Raina has never been ready to take a step back. The same spirit showed on Sunday, albeit with his eye diminishing. He went after Boult after being taunted with the short stuff, and even managed to score a scratchy boundary before losing his wicket. To the last, he has kept fighting.
That Raina’s was a precocious talent was known since his days as a youngster. Greg Chappell – who called him the next Brian Lara – MS Dhoni and Gary Kirsten, all backed the southpaw to the hilt. While his short-ball troubles had an impact on his Test career, he had a fruitful stint as a limited-overs player. However India’s riches in the batting department meant that he had to often be content with playing the supporting act, first to Dravid and Sachin, and later to Virat and Rohit. But his contribution deserves to be remembered on its own.
Maybe his potential could have been utilized as a number four batter, where he averaged 45 at a strike-rate of 99, but he was more than happy to play the supporting act lower down the order, a role less glamorous and harder to nail.
There, he forged a formidable partnership with his close friend, MS Dhoni. Together the two added 3,484 runs in ODIs at an average of 57.11. Here, Raina often played the role of the aggressor, trying to get the runs flowing from his end. This is evidenced by his strike-rate of 94.33 when batting at five, and 92.97 at six.
His contributions might not have always been in the form of hundreds (though he didn’t have any aversion to them, having scored one on his Test debut), but he supplied several smaller crucial knocks which turned the game for India. One such innings, a 28-ball 34, helped India reach the semi-finals of the 2011 World Cup, turning a tricky end to a chase into a stroll. Then, in the semi, an unbeaten 36 took India past 250. Each was overshadowed by more fabled knocks from Yuvraj Singh and Tendulkar respectively.
A composed 28-ball 35 helped India beat arch rivals Pakistan in tricky circumstances in Mirpur during the 2014 World T20, while against the same opponents at the 2015 World Cup he made a rapid 74 to take India to 300, with that game remembered for a Virat Kohli ton. In the quarter-final against Bangladesh, he came in with India 115-3 and made 65 off 57, again propelling India to a match-winning total, and again playing second fiddle, this time to Rohit, who made a century, with some no-ball drama further sidelining Raina’s contribution.
When he couldn’t contribute with the bat, Raina found ways to contribute with the ball (62 international wickets, 25 wickets in the IPL) or with his electric fielding in the inner circle. His fielding was applauded by none other than Jonty Rhodes, who talked about Raina’s selflessness on the field, “Suresh Raina plays in India all the time. I know what the conditions of the fields are. Every time he practices, every time he dives, it’s going to be sore. And, he doesn’t even give a second’s hesitation, should I dive or not, he goes for the ball.”
Perhaps, his selflessness, his dedication to the team’s cause, and fearless approach towards batting were epitomized in now-fabled knock against Punjab Kings, then Kings XI Punjab. This was a game CSK shouldn’t have stood a chance in after PBKS set them a target of 227 in 20 overs, and their other batters had scores of 7, 0, 11, 27, 1, 42, 10, and 1. The second-best strike-rate in the CSK innings was MS Dhoni’s 135.48.
Raina’s bat sang its own tune on the night. When he walked in after Faf du Plessis’s wicket, CSK needed 226 runs off 118 balls. By the time he departed, the equation read 127 off 83 balls. Playing one of the most unbelievable knocks ever seen on a cricketing field, he hit 12 fours and six sixes in a 25-ball 87, dismissed one ball after the powerplay having taken his side to a six-over score of 100-1. CSK, somehow, still ended up losing.
The sun now seems to be setting on Raina’s career. Even his international retirement saw him put himself in the shade, taking Dhoni’s departure from the top level as his sign to take his leave. There has been no dearth in his efforts though. He played in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy 2021 to prepare for the IPL. His underpar contribution with the bat seemed to have little impact on his cheerful disposition through the game; he broke out into his characteristic celebration after taking a sharp catch off Dwayne Bravo’s bowling.
This little incident goes on to show that Raina remains ever the loyal team player, willing to give his best in whatever he does, and then go back into the background. He will never be seen as a top-order giant in a country obsessed with batting behemoths, and that is alright. For he finishes with many laurels on his back including a World Cup win, an impactful limited overs and IPL career and perhaps, most importantly, his legacy will be of one who gave it all for his side.