Chubby-faced Suresh Raina is that new-age sportsman who has seen the transition period of Indian cricket up close and whose destiny as a player could be closely linked with the direction in which cricket heads in future.
He became part of the Indian team during coach Greg Chappell's turbulent tenure and immediately left a huge imprint on his peers. Chappell, given to speaking in hyperboles, pronounced him the new Tendulkar of world cricket and the young Raina could not handle the burden of such unimaginable expectations.
He made his comeback to the team under a more realistic disposition at the top and went on to score a hundred on his Test debut.
Yet, no one is sure what he means to the present Indian team, though no one doubts his stroke-full talent, much less his steely resolve and temperament.
His supreme agility on the field makes him an instant hit, not just with the team but with the crowds as well, making him a much sought after player, be it in the lucrative IPL or in the more demanding formats for the national team.
That he is still not an indispensable part of the Indian team is more a reflection on the pool of batting talent — the Virat Kohlis and the Rohit Sharmas — as well as Raina's inability to inspire confidence when it comes to playing the short ball in the longer version of the game.
Reward for efforts
Yet, he has been chosen to lead the Indian side on the tour of the West Indies. It is a decision which can be construed as much a reward for his commitment to his craft, his heroic contributions to Indian's World Cup victory, as to his being part of a powerful coterie which controls Indian cricket.
Those who find Raina being pushed to the helm a baffling decision, suspect that his elevation, even though temporary, has a lot to do with the yellow jersey he wears in the IPL.
This cynical view could be taking an extreme position as Raina, if he can overcome his fear of the short ball and correct his technique, has the makings of a modern day cricketer, who can switch gears on demand — a T20 mercenary one day and a loyal servant of the nation most of the time.
His short stint as the Indian captain in the one-dayers could lead him to more profitable ventures in the future, provided he manages to control, guide and discipline a young bunch of energetic players out to cement their places in the Indian team. More importantly, his own batting form would be even more crucial as he too, like others in the team, is vying for one or two vacant spots in the playing XI, once the main players get back into the team.
For Raina, who has made his way up the ladder having worked extremely hard on his game and fitness, this is an opportunity he better make best use of.