The Sardar Patel Stadium holds fond memories for Suresh Raina. The left-handed batsman provided the finishing touches when India ousted Australia in the quarter-finals of the 2011 World Cup.
As the next edition approaches, the jaunty player's career has taken an upward spiral. Raina had scored 34 not out against Australia in that game, batting at No. 7. Statistics indicate that Raina has played a lot as the slogging lower-order batsman with hardly any time to settle down, and almost no scope to play a long innings.
However, with the team's transition, Raina has been slotted at the crucial No. 4 spot. The experiment started during the ODI series against Australia at home late last year.
Having completed 200 matches, he is the second-most capped batsman in the current set-up after skipper MS Dhoni (250). And experience counts, the responsibility has also gone up.
After initial hiccups in his promoted spot during the tours of South Africa and New Zealand, the 26-year-old has warmed up to the task.
Raina was the architect as India beat England in the ODI series in September (160 runs in three innings at 53.33). He followed it up with 133 runs in three innings at 44.33 against West Indies, finding his groove at the key spot a year on.
Raina has the temperament to keep the innings together. Unlike in the death overs, when the pressure to maximise the run rate is huge, he has made use of the opportunity to settle down.
The aerial strokes are controlled, and strike is rotated. Raina has also worked with coach Pravin Amre to improve his technique against the short ball. The England success was testimony to that.
In Cuttack, Raina came at No 3. With openers Shikhar Dhawan and Ajinkya Rahane having put on a double-century stand, the platform was set for Raina, who made 52 off 34 balls.
In the groove
"After the match, he told me it didn't feel like he had just started his innings. He felt settled from the moment he took guard," said Gyanendra Pandey, Raina's coach in the Uttar Pradesh team.
"He has worked on his technique which allows him to play till the end. If needed, he has the ability to change gears at will since he has played at lower-middle order for years," added Pandey.
The shift to the number four slot took some time, but the opportunity was not wasted. "He never got so many chances to play at the top, and now he wants to make full use of it."
For Raina, though, the challenge will be to carry his form Down Under, and better his record on foreign soil.