IPL gives Raina a fresh cause for optimism

“If I have a good IPL season, there could be another chance coming my way. Even Virat Kohli has spoken to me, and he feels that I still have a lot of cricket left in me,” says Suresh Raina.

Suresh Raina... “Being the leader of the side, my job is also to inspire a group of young boys in the batting and bowling departments. Overall, I am looking forward to a good IPL season.”   -  Akhilesh Kumar

Suresh Raina is on a mission. The swashbuckling batsman, who has been out of Team India for quite some time now, has pinned his hopes on the Indian Premier League (IPL). With the Champions Trophy round the corner, a good performance in the IPL could help the Gujarat Lions captain stage a comeback to Team India.

In a chat with Sportstar, Raina explained why the IPL is important for his career.

Excerpts:

Question: How is Gujarat Lions shaping up for the IPL this season?

Answer: The team looks balanced. We had done well last season, and this time, we are focussing on our bowling attack. We have another young player from England this time — Jason Roy. He played well against India and knows the conditions well. I want to use him properly. There are also quite a few fast bowlers from the domestic circuit — we have (Manpreet) Gony, Munaf Patel and Nathu Singh.

Then we have so much power in the batting department. So, when you have so many good players in the side, there is also a healthy competition in the team.

But you will be missing the services of Ravindra Jadeja and Dwayne Bravo…

Yes, it’s a big blow. I have been told that Jadeja will be missing two matches. But I understand the reason behind asking him to take rest. After such a tiring season for India, he requires rest. But he will be back after two matches. Until then, we will certainly miss his presence, as he is one of the most important players in the side. Once Jadeja and Bravo are back in the side, it will strengthen our attack. Their experience will count.

Don’t you think this IPL is going to be very important for your career as well?

Haan… (pauses). I am doing well and I am hoping to deliver the goods for my team. I am working hard at the nets. I am actually waiting for the tournament to begin. I had to take a break from the game, but to ensure that I am completely back in the groove I am working quite hard. Being the leader of the side, my job is also to inspire a group of young boys in the batting and bowling departments. Overall, I am looking forward to a good IPL season.

While you were on a break, there were talks that your focus has shifted away from cricket. Even one of your coaches claimed that you are no longer interested in the game. How do you react to these allegations?

I played a T20 game against England earlier this year. And I am ready to be back in the mix. Even I read an interview recently, where some coach, who preferred to remain anonymous, raised doubts about my focus on cricket. Look, the story is not true. My question is, if somebody is so sure about all that, then why would he be afraid of coming out in the open?

To be honest with you, I don’t believe in all such talks. In fact, they don’t even affect me. I know what is right, and the reason behind staying away from cricket. Being a father, it was my duty to take care of my ailing daughter (Raina’s daughter Gracia wasn’t keeping well, she was down with flu and chicken pox).

Family is definitely the first priority. I have to be with the family when it needs me the most, and at that time, all other things are secondary. So, during that phase, handling those responsibilities was important.

‘Even I read an interview recently, where some coach, who preferred to remain anonymous, raised doubts about my focus on cricket. Look, the story is not true. My question is, if somebody is so sure about all that, then why would he be afraid of coming out in the open? To be honest with you, I don’t believe in all such talks.’

But such allegations must have been disheartening…

It is better for people, who don’t know the reality, to not make such statements. Before writing or making a statement, they should have checked with me about the real scenario, and I would have been able to tell my side of the story. But all that is past now, and my only focus is on the IPL. I want to perform to the best of my abilities.

For the first time in your career, you failed to make it to the BCCI central contracts. That must have been a major setback too?

I really don’t know what happened. My understanding of the BCCI contracts is that, if you have played for India in the last six months, you are at least kept in Group C. I had played in a T20 match against England this year. But then I don’t know what is the reason. May be there could have been a lack of communication, or may be the rules have changed. I don’t know what happened, so would not like to talk much about it. I would rather focus on the IPL, make runs and inspire a young team.

Even before the tournament began, this edition of the IPL saw quite a few injury issues. With some of the big names pulling out, do you think Gujarat Lions is better placed? Your injury list is smaller when compared with others…

(Laughs) Well, that’s a good question. It is true that many big names have been ruled out due to injuries. But the thing is, in the IPL, the duration of a game is very small. A game can change in one over. So thinking smartly is very important, and that is something I have learnt in the last nine editions. You can’t be thinking about who is not there in the opposing team. You have to read the game, make smart moves and analyse better. We have to keep the thinking process on.

With the Champions Trophy round the corner, don’t you think this IPL can actually help you stage a comeback to Team India?

With so many injury issues in the side, there could be a few call-ups. And if I have a good IPL season, there could be another chance coming my way. Even Virat (Kohli) has spoken to me, and he feels that I still have a lot of cricket left in me.

A good IPL outing can actually change a lot of things, and at the moment, I am just focusing on my batting and leading Gujarat Lions. As the skipper, it is important for me to create a sporting atmosphere and maintain a good rapport with the senior players and the coaches. If the bonding is right, a team can press for success. Let’s see how it goes this time.