A team-man to the core

AP

“I am focussed on coming back into the Test team because I know I belong there,” says Suresh Raina in a chat with Vijay Lokapally.

Greg Chappell rated Suresh Raina “high”. The Australian great saw immense potential in the left-hander when he was the coach of the India team.

Having lost his place in the Indian Test squad, Raina is well aware that he would have to work hard to regain his slot. With 17 Tests and 151 ODIs under his belt, he is one of the finest fielders in world cricket, apart from his ability with bat and ball. At 25, Raina fancies a future in Test cricket and shares his views with Sportstar.

Question: How would you assess your journey in cricket up to now?

Answer: It’s been very good. Going to a boarding school taught me a lot early in life. Getting a scholarship from Air India during my formative years also helped a lot. It gave me a lot of confidence. Playing with senior players was an education. It was tough, but it groomed me to be a good player and human being.

My dream has come true — I was adamant to make cricket as my career and I am happy I did not let my parents down. They supported me all the way.

What do you remember from that learning phase of your career?

Meeting people taught me a lot. When you taste success, you make new friends. Being a celebrity brings more people into your life. It feels good, but there is the threat of losing focus. I was lucky. I did not lose focus because I was surrounded by well-meaning people who guided me right through.

My parents would never tire of telling me that I must always respect my seniors. Never take anything for granted — I learnt this from my parents. My father could not afford the annual fee (Rs. 4000) for the Sports College in Kanpur, but he managed it for my sake. With time, I could earn enough to keep my parents happy and give them a very good life. All they ask of me is good performance on the field.

How was your initiation into international cricket?

It was in Sri Lanka (2005). Rahul (Dravid) was the captain. He told me I would be playing the next day. I did not sleep properly that night. I was to play for India; I was to play with cricketers who were my heroes. I had watched them on TV and now I was with them. It was an unforgettable moment.

What did you learn from Rahul Dravid?

A lot. He has been my role model. I got my one-day cap under him, the Test cap under him. His dedication is unmatched. He always gives you inputs. I adore his concentration, how he maintained it. Nothing affects him really. If I get some of his concentration, I would be a better player.

Such a big name, but such humility. He (Sachin Tendulkar) is an amazing person. How he respects the others, has the time for the juniors, the ground staff. He is so easily approachable, even for the new players. He can be the best teacher.-S. SUBRAMANIUM

What lesson have you imbibed from watching Sachin Tendulkar?

Such a big name, but such humility. He is an amazing person. How he respects the others, has the time for the juniors, the ground staff. He is so easily approachable, even for the new players. He can be the best teacher.

What do you tell yourself?

That I have to maintain my progress graph, I have to keep improving. In international cricket, challenges grow with time. I want to be a good Test cricketer. I don’t want to be branded as a one-day player. I want to do well in all three formats where the requirements are different. I bat at the same number in ODIs and Test cricket. I am an attacking batsman. I understand my role well. I made my Test debut after playing 98 one-day internationals. I can read my game well. I have learnt from Viru (Virender Sehwag) and Yuvi (Yuvraj Singh) to play my natural game. I am focussed on coming back to the Test team because I know I belong there.

The lessons you learnt from success and failure…

Success is when the team wins and failure when the team loses. I don’t get carried away; I enjoy the team’s success more. It is important. I enjoy the success of my team-mates too. In cricket, individual success does not count. What is the point of feeling happy when your performance does not help the team win? I have never taken things for granted. I have never missed a single practice session in my career, not even during Ranji Trophy. These sessions help in planning better.

When do you feel you have played a good innings?

When I am contributing to the team’s victory; when I am middling the ball well; when I am getting my shots right. I feel happy when I excel under pressure. Like in the World Cup when I played two not out innings. I feel happy when I deliver when the team needs.

How do you assess Test cricket?

It is ‘the cricket’. Every cricketer will tell you that. It is so different. It is the aura of Test cricket that stands out from other formats. The game changes with every session. Recently, Graham Gooch told me that he liked my attitude. It meant a lot and I want to carry it forward to become a good Test cricketer. It teaches you to stay involved. It teaches you to come back strongly and also to analyse your game better. Every failure in Test cricket can be great education.

Do you fancy yourself as an all-rounder?

I want to. I bowl a lot in one-dayers, and I want to bowl in Test cricket too. Ricky Ponting was my first wicket in Tests. I can be the fifth bowler in Tests. I did it in England and the West Indies. I can bowl 15 to 20 overs. I learnt a lot from Murali (Muttiah Muralitharan), Bhajji (Harbhajan Singh) and (Ravichandran) Ashwin. I want to bowl more in Test matches.

I bowl a lot in one-dayers, and I want to bowl in Test cricket too. Ricky Ponting was my first wicket in Tests. I can be the fifth bowler in Tests. I did it in England and the West Indies. I can bowl 15 to 20 overs.-AP

What does stardom and money mean to you?

Important when I look back, but not everything in life. I have worked hard to come this far. My family suffered a lot to keep me going. I had bought my house on loan and my parents were worried when I lost my place due to injury. But I was confident. I did my rehab, came back and made my dad happy.

Your father (Trilok Chand Raina) has been a huge influence on you…

He made me a good human being. He taught me to control my temper and make sure I did not hurt anyone’s feelings. He has maintained all my clippings right from my under-14 days. He boosted my morale when I went through a torrid time at the Sports College. Seniors would rag me and beat me up because they would say I did not belong to Uttar Pradesh. It used to hurt being humiliated, but it made me tough.

You never miss an opportunity to come home, even if it is for just a few hours…

Yes. I have a very affectionate family. My parents have stayed simple. They don’t come into the limelight and always prefer to stay in the background. My dad called me a fighter when I came back and that comment means a lot to me. It keeps motivating me. My brother (Dinesh) would teach me when I came home from the Sports College. My mother (Parvesh) is very religious. She makes fantastic Kashmiri food. I worship them all. I am proud of them.

What do you think of your fans?

They are a very important part of my life. They pray for me, wish me well. I have a lot of time for them. They are the ones who value your cricket and support you. I love meeting my fans and interacting with them.

Any regrets?

Not being able to attend my sister’s wedding… I was playing a match (in Rajkot in 2005).