Raina in cruise control for Windies tour
India's new willow wielder attributes his success to his ability to focus for long periods.Updated: May 15, 2006 14:34 IST
Teenager Suresh Raina likes to remind himself of the first-ball duck on his India debut to ensure the adulation he attracts as the country's latest batting sensation does not go to his head.
Raina, 19, has shown maturity beyond his years and added steel to the one-day squad in an impressive first season.
The left-hander quickly sealed his spot in the side with a string of match-winning knocks under pressure to guide India to a 5-1 series win over England last month.
Raina is now gearing up for his next big test, a five-match one-day series in West Indies, which starts on Thursday.
"I'm excited, I hope to learn from the experience," Raina said.
"It is an important tour for us as a team, it gives us the opportunity to know the conditions before next year's World Cup there."
He already appears a certainty for the World Cup, having joined youngsters Yuvraj Singh, wicketkeeper Mahendra Dhoni and all rounder Irfan Pathan to help India to shed their tag as 'chokers' while chasing a target.
However, Raina's debut in a triangular series in Sri Lanka last July was hardly memorable.
He was foxed by a doosra delivery from Sri Lanka spinner Muttiah Muralitharan to be trapped leg before on the first ball he faced.
"I was depressed and did not sleep that night, worried I may not get another chance," Raina said. "But the seniors told me to relax and keep working hard."
He showed that the disappointment was behind him against England, notching up 242 runs in six innings and producing his first three one-day fifties.
Raina struck a superb match-winning 81 not out in the second match in Faridabad, rescuing the team from 92-5, and earning praise from captain Rahul Dravid as a huge talent.
"For a 19-year-old to have such a temperament is something special," Dravid said. "We're happy he's developed into such a good player in his first year of international cricket."
A glimpse of Raina's promise had come on the preceding tour of Pakistan, where he chipped in with 35 not out in the fourth one-dayer to help India to a 4-1 series victory.
Pakistan captain Inzamam-ul-Haq predicted Raina could become a future Michael Bevan, the former Australia batsman renowned as the game's best finisher.
"Raina's shot selection is immaculate and the best part of his batting is he is good at finding gaps," Inzamam said.
Hailing from Ghaziabad, a mode industrial town near New Delhi well away from India's cricketing hubs, did not deter Raina from chasing his dream.
Selected to attend a government sports center in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, he caught the eye of selectors at the 2004 under-19 World Cup where the team reached the semi-finals.
An attacking batsman with fluent shots and outstanding in the field, he amassed 620 runs in six games to guide unheralded Uttar Pradesh to their maiden Ranji Trophy national title last year with India team mate Mohammad Kaif.
"Kaif is my inspiration," Raina said. "I kept telling myself, if he could play for India why not me if I worked equally hard.
"Watching Kaif, I realised if you make 40 or 50, take two catches and effect two run outs it is a very good effort in one-day cricket," he added.
Raina attributes his success to his ability to retain focus for long periods and take each ball as it comes.
"I've noticed when I do that, situations turn the way I want them to," he said. "If I get a single, fine, if I hit a boundary, even better."
"I'm always confident that whenever I get a chance, I'll perform."
First Published: May 15, 2006 13:02 IST