Leave the matter, look at the manner!

Suresh Raina asks for a new grip for his bat while playing against Zimbabwe in the World Cup recently. Raina seems to have now got a grip on his batting.-AP

Suresh Raina, it is clear, has the backing of the team. He has been assured that he will not be judged on merely the runs he scores, but the manner in which he carries out his role. Such confidence is all a player needs sometimes to flourish, writes Shreedutta Chidananda.

Suresh Raina was trying to do much the same thing against West Indies that he so successfully managed versus Zimbabwe: lift the tempo. India was stuck in a rut and Raina, despite being peppered with short balls, had ensured the scoring hadn’t stagnated. He tried to carve Dwayne Smith over extra cover when the ball seamed away slightly and took the outside edge on its way to the ’keeper. Raina was gone for 22 and it was left to M. S. Dhoni to save India the blushes.

Against Zimbabwe at Eden Park, Raina top-edged Sikander Raza attempting a slog-sweep. Hamilton Masakadza spilled a simple catch, a most awful piece of fielding even by Zimbabwean standards. Raina was on 47 then.

He went on to bludgeon an unbeaten 110, his fifth century in one-day cricket. Raina’s role in the Indian team is often misunderstood. His average of 36.16 from 216 ODIs is used as a stick to beat him with and compared with the phenomenal numbers someone like Virat Kohli has racked up.

After the narrow win over West Indies in Perth, Dhoni sprang to the defence of his colleague. “At number five, many times the batsman does not get an opportunity,” he pointed out. “When he doesn’t, how many runs can he make? If you go and bat in the 40th over, how many runs can you score? If you get out, you’ll get out for 20-25 runs and after the third or fourth game, they’ll say: ‘He’s out of form. He’s only made 20 runs.’ But that’s the point where the strike rate is more important. If you keep emphasising on runs, then a person will start playing for himself. He’ll say: ‘Why should I play an extra shot and take a risk? 45 overs have been bowled. I’ll make 25 or 30 and remain not out and happy.’ But we don’t want to encourage that habit. Our attempt will be to score as many runs as possible.”

Raina is unselfish and is willing to play any role the team demands of him. Against Pakistan in Adelaide, he was promoted up to four and he slammed a quick-fire 74 that knocked the wind out of the opponent’s sails. Given his nature, it is impossible we will hear of unrest in the dressing room if he is asked to go in to bat at short notice. As important as the number of runs Raina makes is the speed at which he makes them. This aspect is sometimes ignored when the left-hander is denounced as being soft or weak.

“When you speak of number 5, how many Indian players have been successful there?” Dhoni asked. “Yuvraj Singh was the only one who consistently did well for us and then he got promoted to four. Other than that we’ve been shuffling everyone else. Virat and Rohit have batted there; nobody really has been successful. Raina’s the best that we have got and we need to back him. Because if we don’t back him, the new guy who comes in will say: ‘I don’t want to play shots. I’ll make 25 runs and go home not out.’”

Dhoni may not have been entirely accurate in stating that ‘nobody really has been successful,’ for Rohit has batted there 25 times and averages 45.36, seven points more than his career average. But his point is understood. In the existing scenario, there is no better fit than Raina for the number five position.

Raina’s own development has been interesting to note. He came to Australia with the Test squad, played in a tour game, made 20, and did not face another ball for 32 days.

The top brass are solidly behind Raina. Here Cricket Director Ravi Shastri gives a few tips to the batsman as to how to negotiate the rising ball.-AKHILESH KUMAR

He was named in the side for the last Test, in Sydney, when he lasted one ball in the first innings and three in the second. He had an unremarkable triangular series, making a total of 53 runs from three innings. For any player to recover from such a slump is not easy. Raina has demonstrated maturity that was perhaps previously lacking.

Raina, it is clear, has the backing of the team. He has been assured that he will not be judged on merely the runs he scores but the manner in which he carries out his role. Such confidence is all a player needs sometimes to flourish. “The role that’s assigned to him — I think in this game he did it perfectly well,” Dhoni said of him after India began the World Cup with victory in Adelaide. “He was provided with a platform where he could go in and be a bit more expressive. What we really liked was he took a few deliveries initially and then went on to play the big shots. In fact he was more calculated in his innings, and he picked his areas where he wanted to hit. He read the bowlers well as to where they wanted to bowl. He put pressure, and that’s what it’s all about. If you can put pressure on the bowlers, you will push them to commit more mistakes — bowling where they don’t want to bowl.”

In full flow, Raina becomes unstoppable. He has had issues with the short ball, but he has resolved them to a great extent. A good bouncer is hard for any batsman to negotiate. Raina’s natural attacking instincts mean that he is more likely to attempt to score off one than leave it alone. That perhaps increases the risk of dismissal and lends unnecessary weight to the theory that he has a weakness.

“We had a short time to work together but I don’t think that technically he has (that problem),” Stephen Fleming, his coach in the IPL at CSK, said in Hamilton. “There’s obviously a bit of anxiety around it, but once he gets in he plays it well and he can use it as his strength. On smaller grounds in New Zealand, it won’t be an issue.

“It may be an issue on bigger grounds where he tends to hook up, looking for six rather than roll his wrists. He can get better at it, he knows he can. But I don’t think it’s as big a weakness as people make it out to be.”