It is easy to forget that Suresh Raina is just 23. The left-handed batsman has already been around for so long, since his international debut back in 2005, that he's one of the more experienced ODI cricketers in the mix. With 90 ODIs under the belt, Raina has already learnt a lot about batting at the highest level.
That said, he learnt another valuable lesson on Sunday: when you get in and make a start, push yourself to the limit and get a hundred in the bag. It's only a number, but 100 means a lot to any cricketer. The major criticism of Raina, thus far, has been his penchant for brief attractive innings that did not get converted into big scores.
To make a century in a 20-over contest is not something that happens often, with only Chris Gayle and Brendon McCullum having managed the feat before Raina. "It really couldn't have happened to a more deserving guy," a team-mate of Raina said. "We literally have to drag him out of the nets during practice sessions. When a kid puts in so much effort, you're happy to see him get results."
Talk to different people about Raina and his work ethic is a repeated theme. It's little wonder that coaches love him. It was under Greg Chappell that Raina first came to the fore in Indian cricket, and the former Australian great had very specific reasons for backing Raina. What caught Chappell's eye was Raina's ability to hit through the infield, with a combination of power and placement.
Most Indian batsmen, especially against spinners, back themselves to take the aerial route when bogged down. But Raina had this unique knack of keeping the ball along the ground, thereby minimising risk, and drilling it past the fielders inside the circle.
Add to this the fact that Raina hits some of the biggest sixes in a group of dashers, and you have something approaching a complete package. What impressed in Sunday's century was Raina's maturity. "I was not hitting the ball well when I first went to the crease," Raina admitted soon after. "At that time I was thinking 'just rotate the strike' and when I get a loose ball just go for it." If there has been one flaw in Raina's batting that opposition bowlers have been keen to exploit, it's his appetite to take on short-pitched bowling. In the past, there have been occasions when a sustained attack of bouncers has cost Raina his wicket. But, instead of focussing on his weaknesses, Raina has done what he can to maximise his strengths.
An instinctive cricketer at the best of times, and someone who is always looking to attack, Raina has benefitted enormously from playing under Mahendra Singh Dhoni, both for India and the Chennai Super Kings in the IPL. "Mahi (Dhoni) helped me a lot in the IPL," Raina said. "Even other senior players, like Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid, have supported me throughout the time I've been with the Indian team. It's important to fulfil the dreams they've had for me."