India’s first practice session ahead of the Champions Trophy was pushed back from 10am to 1:45pm, but there was one man who came in before everyone else. Even as the rest of the team was boarding the bus from the Hyatt Hotel, Suresh Raina was already at the Edgbaston nets receiving a special throwdown from bowling coach Joe Dawes. The focus was on helping the southpaw tackle the one major chink in his armour - facing up to short-pitched bowling.
Raina's circumspect batting against balls aimed at the rib-cage is probably Indian cricket's worst kept secret. He looks a world beater against spinners and on Indian tracks that offer very little bounce. He was earmarked for bigger things by India's then coach Greg Chappell when he first made it to the national team. But on tracks with a bit of juice, he's like, in the words of HT columnist Ian Chappell, Superman exposed to kryptonite!
On Friday, you could see the flaw playing on his mind and affecting his overall batting. Dawes, using a catapulta, delivered three short-pitched deliveries, which Raina negotiated with varying levels of comfort. But the fourth ball was pitched up and saw Raina lose his leg-stump.
The big worry for Dawes wasn't just Raina's batting when given a dose of sweet chin music but how it affected his overall psyche.
Raina was almost waiting for the short ball and when it was pitched up he failed to make the necessary adjustment. One could hear Dawes instructing him to follow through with his shot when the ball is pitched up, but Raina, who has a long backswing, failed to follow suit.
Raina's major weakness against short-pitched bowling is that he is often squared up when he faces a quick on a lively pitch and ends up either ballooning the ball for a simple catch inside the ring, or, in desperation, goes for a pull or a hook, neither of which are his forte.
It was this technical chink that saw him have a horrendous time in the 2011 Test series in England, where he averaged a paltry 13.12 with 105 runs in eight innings, 78 of which came in one knock at Lord's. By the time the India headed to Oval for the final Test, he cut a desolate figure, and recorded a pair in the final Test, including a 29-ball duck, the longest duck in India's Test history.
He recovered some form for the Natwest Series that followed, averaging 44.75 with a strike rate in excess of 100, but by this point his reputation against the short-pitched stuff was already dented and saw him lose his spot in the Test side for the series against Australia. A poor run in the CB Series, where he failed to notch a single fifty in eight matches, only reinforced what many already knew.
All the while, he kept scoring prolifically in the Indian T20 league and home matches that followed. When England toured India for the ODI series in January he was in sublime touch and got a fifty in each of the four innings he faced, but many had already ascribed the flat-track bully tag.
With matches against South Africa, West Indies and Pakistan, all of whom have lethal fast-bowling attacks, this tournament offers Raina a chance to silence the critics. Let's hope in this case, practice makes him perfect!