In 2013, when Team India clinched the Champions Trophy in England under the leadership of Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Suresh Raina was one of the key members of the side.
As the Indian team gets ready for yet another T20 World Cup campaign, aiming to break the title jinx, Raina believes that the Rohit Sharma-led outfit has all the firepower to clinch the trophy.
On a rainy Friday evening in Mumbai, Raina, who is now the India brand ambassador for Booking.Com - the accommodation booking partner for the T20 World Cup - shared his thoughts with Sportstar about his life post retirement, India’s chances in the upcoming ICC event and more.
After announcing retirement from all forms of cricket, you featured in the Road Safety World Series last month. With so much travel, back-to-back matches, did it feel that you have got busier after retirement?
I played a lot of matches for my country. Now, I am getting a lot of opportunities and I want to enjoy and express myself. I recently played the Road Safety World Series and we won it for Sachin paaji, it was a wonderful tournament. I might now play in Abu Dhabi and Dubai (leagues), so I am looking in good shape and working on my fitness achhe se.
Not many pursue the game post retirement. What’s keeping you going?
Once Rahul Dravid told me, "Play as much as you want to because after 40 even if you want to, you can’t play." I am 35, so I still have five more years to go and if I can maintain fitness, I might even push it up to 42 or 44. I want my son to watch me play (laughs).
It’s been two years since you announced your retirement from international cricket, hardly a few minutes after MS Dhoni put out his retirement post on Instagram. How has life been since then? When are you not playing in the leagues or commentating, what keeps you busy? Do you travel a lot?
I am enjoying my life with my family. I have recently booked a few trips and we will soon travel to Amsterdam, Dubai and to a few other places. We are enjoying life.
Many felt that perhaps you announced your retirement from international cricket in a haste. Did you get carried away after Dhoni’s decision? What made you take this decision?
(Laughs) Why should I reveal the reason? On a serious note, I really enjoyed playing but at that point in time, I really wanted to spend my time with the family. Since it was August 15, I thought it was the best day to hang up the boots.
What are your plans for the future? A lot of your former colleagues have taken up coaching assignments in the state teams and with IPL franchises, do we see you in similar roles?
(Laughs) It’s raining outside and in such a lovely atmosphere, how can I predict what will happen at a later stage? On a serious note, maybe, I will think about all those things later, but for now, the main objective is to spend maximum time with the family and the kids.
There’s a lot of work now. My children go to school and now it is my duty to pick them up from school. I keep spending time with them, I love cooking meals for the children and the family. When I was playing for India, my wife took care of everything. Now, it’s my turn to take charge, so that she can focus on her work. I cherish each and every moment that I spend with the family.
Let’s talk a bit about the Indian team. With Mohammed Shami replacing Jasprit Bumrah, what are your thoughts about India’s chances in the T20 World Cup?
You cannot replace Bumrah, but Shami will bring his ‘A game’ for the team. He has enough experience and has done really well in white ball, red ball and pink ball cricket. He has that courage and has that character to show to the world cricket and he has done it in the past.
But I will have my money on Rohit Sharma, the captain. He has had an incredible record as the captain and Virat Kohli is back among runs, so it’s a great thing. But I also think Suryakumar Yadav will be a key player. He has that intent and that fearless approach. When you have that fearless approach in T20s, you can defend or chase any target, you just need to have the right planning and then everything will fall in place.
But Shami hasn’t played a T20I since November last year. Will that be a problem leading up to the T20 World Cup?
No. We still have a lot of time to go. The BCCI took a great decision to send the team 15 days before the tournament, it has never happened before. It’s a very good time for the Indian team to get acclimatised, see what is happening in Australia. Summer is just setting in there, but it’s cold with a bit of rain, so once you get used to the conditions, everything will fall in place. Process is the key. That’s something we followed even in 2011. MS Dhoni, Sachin (Tendulkar) paaji and Gary (Kirsten) had then told me that if we follow the process, everything will fall in place.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s form also remains a concern…
Sometime it’s difficult to be at your best in a few games. I know he is not bowling well at the moment, but the team management is still backing him. They know his skills and how he can bowl in big games. But having said that, Bhuvi needs to have a game plan and he needs to sort out a few things. Bhuvi is a smart bowler and he has done it for India in the past and when it comes to the big games, he will deliver.
What are your thoughts on Arshdeep Singh?
Arshdeep is the dark horse. When you have one left-arm fast bowler in the team, it actually has an impact. When we won the World T20 in 2007, we had Irfan (Pathan) and RP (Singh). In 2011, we had Zaheer Khan and Ashish Nehra; and this time, we have this guy (Arshdeep) and I am sure he will change the fortunes for us.
The Indian team had a forgettable outing in the T20 World Cup in the UAE last November. In a matter of twelve months, what do you think, has changed in this Indian batting line-up?
I think it’s the mindset. But I would still want a left-handed batter to play. We haven’t had a leftie for a while. In 2007, 2011, you had a Yuvraj Singh or a Gautam Gambhir, who would change the game. That’s what myself or Yuvraj have done in our times and keeping that in mind, I feel Rishabh Pant should be there in the batting line-up. He has that approach and over the years, he has performed so well in Australia, so he needs to be there.
I am not saying whether he should be preferred over DK (Dinesh Karthik) because that’s for the team management to decide. But I feel with so many left-arm spinners and fast bowlers around, Pant has to be there because he gives that extra edge. Rohit must be thinking over it and I hope we start well against Pakistan and then let’s see how it goes from thereon.
Once Rahul Dravid told me, “Play as much as you want to because after 40 even if you want to, you can’t play.”
— Suresh Raina on playing cricket post retirement
Many believe that the presence of a fit Hardik Pandya has made the difference. In last year’s T20 World Cup, there were fitness concerns and he could not even bowl. What are your thoughts?
He is in a very good space right now and when you are in that space, you want to give everything that you have. That’s what he did for Gujarat Titans in the IPL and that’s what he is doing for the national team. I believe he will play an important factor in the tournament, he will bowl in crucial situations and he will bat in crucial situations. That’s what MS Dhoni did when he would bat down the order. Even Hardik has done it in the past, the way he comes and smashes sixes, he would be the game changer for us. Be it bowling in the end, bowling in the PowerPlay or in the middle overs, he is a gun player. We don’t have Ravindra Jadeja now, so in his absence, Hardik will also play a key role in the fielding department. He will be involved in a lot of run outs and I am sure he will be the crucial player for the team.
What are India’s realistic chances in the T20 World Cup this time?
They will be in the top-four for sure. We have a quality skipper in Rohit Sharma, who knows how to get runs in the big matches. He has had great outings in the World Cups earlier. All your bases are covered, it’s just that you need to go out there with a positive mindset and take one match at a time. Everything will eventually fall into place.
So, you are saying, there is a high chance of seeing Rohit Sharma winning the title for India?
Absolutely. Rohit was part of the 2007 World T20 winning team under MS’s captaincy. He and DK are the only two players from that squad who are there in the current team. And being the captain now, Rohit knows how to get the job done. So, you never know, history might repeat again, and if it (India winning the trophy) finally happens, there will be a lot of celebrations and parties!