“Raina should get a bat sponsor now,” roared Sanjay Manjrekar from the commentary box as Suresh Raina hit a towering six off Dushmantha Chameera over square leg in India’s second encounter with Sri Lanka of the Nidahas Trophy. Raina was hitting cleanly, much to the delight of the Indian fans.
What made this inning all-the-more special was the fact that the veteran batsman was not only pouncing on the length deliveries but also dispatching the short pitched balls towards the boundary, something which has been his perennial weakness. Moreover, it was not in the usual fashion that the southpaw was hopping or getting inside the line of the rising deliveries to tuck them away towards fine leg. This time he was keeping his eyes on the ball till the last moment and clobbering it towards long leg or square leg with the full swing of the bat. This is an augury that he is gradually coming back to his own in international cricket.
In the very first match that Raina played after his return to international cricket, Virat Kohli promoted him to No. 3 in the batting order. The southpaw came all guns blazing and tried to hit every ball out of the ground. He timed a couple of shots to score a quick-fire 15 off 7 balls, but in the process lost his wicket. The way he approached his batting invited a lot of flak as it is no secret that Raina can do much better than just slog the ball.
He rectified his mistake in the following matches but still, the manner in which Raina is throwing his wicket away is most disappointing. With scores of 27, 28, 1, 43, 31 and 15 in his last six matches respectively, one can see that he has been consistently getting starts. What’s upsetting is that he is not converting these starts into fifties and repeatedly failing to take the team over the line on his own.
After being gambled with at the No. 3 spot for the initial four matches, the left hander has been rejigged at No. 4. This may prove to be just what the doctor ordered for Raina. The World Cup winner with his vast experience is someone who can not only use the long handle to good effect but also hold the Indian innings together. Of course, once he is set, he can go hammer and tongs in the slog overs.
The fact that Raina can also roll his arm over, further makes him a utility player. The current Indian limited overs side lacks batsmen who can give the captain some part-time overs. Kedar Jadhav has been able to prolong his ODI stint due to the very reason that he can give the team some valuable overs if the fifth bowler in Hardik Pandya has a rough outing.
In the last do-or-die T20I against South Africa, when Axar Patel went for 16 runs in his first over, Raina came to his rescue. He did a decent job as per T20 standards by giving away 27 runs in his 3 overs and picking up the all-important wicket of David Miller. The CSK player may not get to bowl regularly but presenting the team with a spin bowling option gives him an edge over other batsmen.
In the recent years, India have become a much better fielding unit. With added focus on fitness and young blood coming in, the side has improved their ground fielding considerably. But what still comes to haunt them at times is their catching.
All the same, since his comeback, Raina has grabbed six catches in as many matches to infuse some life in India’s hapless catching, the highlight being his rocket catch at mid wicket to dismiss Gunathilaka.
Comebacks are not an unknown beast for the Uttar Pradesh cricketer. In 2014 as well, when Raina was dropped from the Asia Cup squad following a string of failures on India’s tour of New Zealand, he made sure that he returned in some style. In the very first match of the 5-match ODI series against England, Raina had cut loose and raced his way to a free flowing century at Cardiff.
Since Raina has returned to the Indian team – keeping the runs aside – his confidence has been right up there. It hasn’t looked even for a moment that he doesn’t belong at the biggest stage.
As opposed to the 36-year-old Yuvraj Singh, the 31-year-old Raina has age on his side and around five years of cricket still left in him. After all, being one of the only three Indian batsmen to have a T20I century against their name – the other two being Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul – he certainly deserves a little longer rope than the others.
Raina continues to have the faith of skipper Virat Kohli intact in him. With the 2019 World Cup just a year away and India struggling to settle matters at the No. 4 spot in the ODIs, he may just prove to be the ideal choice for the role. Raina’s comeback may not have been spectacular but with an average close to 25 and a strike rate of over 140 since his T20I comeback in South Africa, he is doing just enough to keep us interested.