As you drive down from the airport here, some hoardings, in a blaze of yellow, stare at you.
And you see familiar faces in them, M. S. Dhoni, Suresh Raina and others thanking Pune for all its support after Chennai Super Kings (CSK) was forced to seek a new home.
Much like that of the charismatic Dhoni, Raina’s name has been synonymous with CSK. He has been there all along, a blithe spirit who brought with him an adventurous brand of batting and electric fielding. This has been a season when Raina has been under the radar by his own standards with pocket dynamo Ambati Rayudu making the headlines with his thunderous batting.
Not in top gear
But then, the 31-year-old Raina, while not quite hitting top gear, has produced a few innings of substance. An unbeaten 75 against Mumbai Indians in Pune was the pick and then there were his half-centuries against Rajasthan Royals and Sunrisers Hyderabad.
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The free-stroking southpaw has been a relentless run-getter for CSK in the IPL with 4855 runs in 172 matches at a laudable 34.19 — ahead of Friday’s game against Delhi Daredevils — and is only behind Virat Kohli (4944) in the all-time list.
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In this edition, Raina, overcoming a calf injury in the early stages of CSK’s campaign, has gone beyond 300 runs. Raina can change games as quickly as he brings his bat down from a rather high back-lift. And then, after picking the length in a jiffy, he does considerable damage with footwork and strong wrists.
Always a threat
The quick short-pitched deliveries directed into his body in the longer formats are not quite the same threat for Raina in the shortest version.
Raina’s driving through point and covers — often with a bent left knee — is a glorious sight. The left-hander so often bisects the gaps at the last moment using his supple wrists; he can effortlessly essay the lofted hits over the off-side field as well. And Raina can be destructive on the leg side, with his pick-up shots, the flicks and the big blows between square-leg and mid-wicket — he clears his front leg fast and gets under the ball.
The busy Raina, often surfacing at No. 3, rotates the strike, absorbs pressure, mounts comebacks.
This explosive batsman with wonderful timing and an expansive range of strokes can peak as IPL-11 nears its decisive stretch.