India’s second most experienced T20 player Suresh Raina, who has 57 matches and 1162 runs in his kitty, is struggling.
For the past three years, Raina’s batting average has remained below 31.4 - his T20 career average. His overall statistics still holds because of his glory days way back in the past. After reaching a career best at a third rank in 2012 in T20s, his graph has been on a steady decline with a not-so-impressive No 16 at present.
What has happened to MS Dhoni’s go-to man in crisis situations?
If his performance in the T20 series against Australia is anything to go by, Raina does not lack talent. An analysis of his stats scream out the reason: Raina is not comfortable batting at No 4.
The table below shows Raina’s stats in different batting positions in T20s. As the sample size or matches played in each position is almost the same, the analysis is credible.
The two conclusions that can be drawn from the table are that when Raina batted at No 4 or No 5, he scored less than his career average and when he batted in No 3 or No 6 he scored well above his career average.
Also, Raina’s strike rate was a hit whenever he batted in No 4 or 5. It stayed healthy otherwise.
The numbers tell a great deal about Raina as a player. When he is sent in at No 3, he takes his time to settle down and makes up for the dot balls at the end. When he is sent in at No 6, with just a few balls remaining, he straightaway comes out with all guns blazing and finishes the game.
But at No 4 and No 5, he is neither here nor there. The stats indicate that a two-minded Raina is unable to come to a decision whether to accelerate or to rotate singles and finally gets out for a meagre score.
And it’s a pity for Raina as no other Indian player has been experimented with to this length in batting positions.
Let us take a look at the positions played by other Indian T20 players.
Out of the 38 matches, Virat Kohli has played 30 at No 3 - 79%
Out of 55 matches, Rohit Sharma has played 25 as an opener - 45%
Out of 51 matches, Yuvraj Singh has played 28 at No 4 - 55%
Dhawan has played all his 19 matches as an opener - 100%
But when it comes to Raina, at No 3 it was 26% matches, No 4 (24%), No 5 (30%) and No 6 (19%). He was not allowed to settle down in a position like the others.
The only other batsman who has shared this unsettled fate is Dhoni. But then, that is something Captain Cool has chosen to do all by himself. Dhoni’s style of batting which includes audacious strokes like the helicopter shots and his role in the team as a finisher is set in stone.
Thus, this leeway allows him to either promote himself when the situation demands or not enter the play at all if all goes well. So, his case is entirely different from Raina’s.
Also, Kohli has mastered the No 3 position over the years. With a present ranking of No 2 in the T20 format and a string of match saving performances, demoting him may prove disastrous for the team.
The only option is to send in Raina at No 6 as a finisher. However, there could be a danger of him not seeing the light of the day, if wickets do not fall. Also, there is competition for the finisher slot in the form of Hardik Pandya and captain Dhoni himself.
Selectors dropped Raina from Tests, despite a century on debut. Then, they dropped him from ODIs for the 2016 series Down Under. And if he continues in this form in the forthcoming World Cup, it may force the selectors to ignore him after the tournament, bringing his stop-start career to an inglorious end.
Will the selectors and Dhoni put Raina to better use in the T20 World Cup? Or will his poor form in the present batting position continue to haunt him? The selection axe is hanging over his neck, and it is quite sharp.