Raina, India's man for all seasons
His performances may have slipped under the radar at times, but the left-hander has been an MVP for India in the last few one-day games. N Ananthanarayanan reports. Raina’s last 10 ODIsindia Updated: Jan 25, 2013 11:13 IST
As India's usually sharp fielding frayed at its edges when Kevin Pietersen led the charge late in the England innings in Mohali on Wednesday, skipper MS Dhoni began to get visibly irritated.
Suresh Raina was particularly the target of his captain. As a throw from mid-on went wide, Dhoni remonstrated, furiously shaking his hands, asking him to focus better.
Then the two came together during the run chase. Dhoni repeatedly sent back his partner as one of the game's finest runners between the wickets played it safe early on. Often a glove went up to warn his partner; sometimes it was a glare down the pitch that sent Raina scampering back to his crease.
A casual observer could wonder whether Dhoni disliked Raina, but nothing can be far from the truth; it only reflected the rapport they share on and off the field.
As the two-year countdown begins to the 2015 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, the world champions are showing signs of trying to perk up a side that has gone off the boil.
While the champions did rout England at home towards the end of 2011, the home series defeat against Pakistan has raised questions whether India, struggling in Tests, have lost their limited-overs skills as well.
The first sign of looking forward came on Wednesday when Rohit Sharma kick-started what could define a career that has sputtered on, after succeeding as opener in Mohali. Virat Kohli's consistency is cited as the other end of that spectrum, but Raina's influence in the limited-overs team sometimes fails to get the same attention.
The Uttar Pradesh player made a name for himself as a finisher under Rahul Dravid's captaincy, beginning the role against the same team whom he laid low on Wednesday with an unbeaten 89.
That 81 not out in Faridabad in 2006, his second season, came during a strong run for the team, especially while chasing. While Raina needs to sort out his technique against short-pitched stuff if he is to push for a regular Test berth, his smooth acceleration from the start, energy in running between the wickets and even temperament often mark him out as the MVP in the one-day team.
His batting is not all that he brings to the table. He is among the best fielders and is a useful occasional off-spinner. Beyond this, his leadership has not been spoken about. If anyone makes a brilliant stop, Raina will dart across the pitch to pat his team mate; a catch taken, again he is the first to jump onto him.
In the West Indies in 2011, he led the team in the absence of Dhoni and other seniors, smoothly joining hands with new coach, Duncan Fletcher.
Raina, 26, should be at his peak when the 2015 World Cup arrives; polishing his technique against bouncers will only add to his potency.
After his Man-of-the-Match effort in Mohali, Dhoni stressed Raina's importance in the team and wants to reward him by promoting him.
"This kind of innings has a lot of value because we have been grooming him like this. At 5, 6 and 7, depending on scenarios, more often than not, you hope that players have the talent to finish off games. He is a naturally aggressive player and loves to play his strokes but he has to curb them in the interest of the team."
"It will be good if we can give him some chances to bat slightly up the order. At 5, 6 and 7, the maximum you get generally is 60 or 70, and if you don't get runs, it's 10 or 15. We will see how it can be done. But definitely we have to give him a bit of chance up the order."
Does that mean a middle-order rotation, one will have to wait and see.