RESILIENT RAINA

Man of the Match Suresh Raina emerged the new face of Indian cricket. The 20-year-old promises to serve the game for a long time, writes Vijay Lokapally.

In Muradnagar, cricket is played in the streets, for there are not many grounds here. The small town in Ghaziabad district, close to the Capital, is better known for its ordnance factory than any deeds on the sporting field. Now, it shall be known as Suresh Raina's home after the young left-hander's match-winning show in the industrial town of Faridabad.

Raina, 20, emerged the new face of Indian cricket. A precocious talent, who promises to serve the game for long, his progress in the span of just one innings is, perhaps, the best thing to have happened to Indian cricket in recent times.

A number of youngsters have been knocking at the doors, but Raina stands out for his willingness to learn. His state coach, Rajinder Singh Hans, a former left-arm spinner of repute, always marked him as a special cricketer. "He is a very fast learner and I am not surprised by the manner in which he swung the match. He is a match-winner and we have known him to be a gifted player capable of taking up responsibility," he said of his ward.

Raina, who won a TVS motorbike for his Man of the Match performance, went through a tough grooming process and it reflected in the manner in which he assumed authority at the crease to frustrate the English attack after India had been reduced to 92 for five. "I had confidence in his ability," Rahul Dravid said later. The Indian skipper was only reconfirming the statement he had made at the start of the season when he identified Raina as one of the most talented youngsters in the land.

"He is a serious cricketer and can make a big impact in the next decade. I am very impressed with his temperament," said Dravid. The Indian captain, incidentally, is Raina's role model.

Survival of the fittest policy is best reflected in the manner in which Raina has progressed. From his hostel days in Kanpur and Lucknow, when he grew up listening to inspiring tales of how Mohammad Kaif, hailing from a similar background, made it to the glamorous world of Indian cricket, it has been a wonderful journey thus far.

"We have high hopes on him. The innings he played was simply outstanding. The way he completed the task was very professional. Not many youngsters can finish a match like he did. He certainly has a very mature head. There is freshness about the manner in which he conducts himself. He will be worth watching," said National selector Bhupinder Singh, who has been following the young batsman from his days as a Talent Research Development Officer.

"He was amazingly focussed on his job and wanted to do well in all the departments," reminisced Bhupinder.

Raina is a natural fielder. He can be posted anywhere and that is his forte in a team that is beginning to realise its potential. "We need guys like him," said Dravid as he pointed out to the resilience the youngster showed in the middle.

M. S. Dhoni was the unsung hero of the match. He was wonderful behind the stumps, picking an astonishing leg-side catch apart from pulling off a sensational run-out with just one stump in view. And then he played the guiding role well by adapting to the situation. "Dhoni and I have a good understanding, and it was nice to have him around. He made things easy for me," said Raina.

For the second match running, England allowed the opposition to wriggle out. The English lack a finisher and it was obvious from the manner in which they failed to capitalise on a fantastic position with India staring at defeat. Of course, 226 was not a stiff target for India but the slow nature of the pitch enhanced the challenge.

"Raina was fantastic," admitted England skipper Andrew Flintoff, who was playing his 100th one-day international. It was also true that India had a superb performer in off-spinner Ramesh Powar. He was the best bowler on view as he bowled with guile, which is rare in modern cricket. He was willing to give the ball air and his clever variations left the Englishmen in a daze.

"I just bowled my natural style. I was not worried about getting hit and my team-mates made my job easy too," he said. For England, Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Strauss came good with the bat but then the former was once again guilty of not building on the innings.

Having equalled Viv Richards' world record of being the fastest to score 1000 runs in one-day internationals (in 21 innings), Pietersen did not extend his stay at the crease. Strauss and Pietersen were exceptions to some mediocre batting display by England.

The high-handedness of the policemen at the Nahar Singh Stadium proved to be a real dampener. They literally hijacked the stadium and threw many ticket holders out, besides carrying out a brutal lathi-charge on the spectators.

Things could have got out of hand had it not been for the deft handling of the situation by the District Commissioner G. Anupama and the Assistant Deputy Commissioner Sanjay Joon.

They deserve full credit for coming to the rescue of the Haryana Cricket Association in the absence of its secretary Ranbir Singh, who was in mourning following his father's demise.

THE SCORES

2nd ODI, India v England, Nahar Singh Stadium, Faridabad, March 31, 2006.

England: A. Strauss b Powar 61; M. Prior lbw b Harbhajan 33; O. Shah c Dhoni b Powar 0; K. Pietersen c Dravid b Yuvraj 71; A. Flintoff st. Dhoni b Powar 5; P. Collingwood (run out) 5; G. Jones c Gambhir b Sreesanth 22; I. Blackwell b Sreesanth 9; L. Plunkett b Pathan 4; K. Ali (not out) 1; J. Anderson b Sreesanth 2; Extras (b-4, lb-3, w-2, nb-4) 13. Total (in 49.5 overs) 226.

Fall of wkts: 1-66, 2-71, 3-135, 4-143, 5-174, 6-193, 7-214, 8-221, 9-223.

India bowling: Pathan 8-2-29-1; Sreesanth 6.5-0-40-3; Harbhajan 10-1-43-1; Powar 10-0-34-3; Sehwag 4-0-21-0; Yuvraj 10-0-39-1; Gambhir 1-0-13-0.

India: V. Sehwag b Blackwell 26; G. Gambhir c & b Anderson 29; R. Dravid (run out) 5; Yuvraj b Blackwell 18; M. Kaif lbw b Plunkett 0; S. Raina (not out) 81; M. Dhoni b Flintoff 38; I. Pathan (not out) 12; Extras (lb-4, w-16, nb-1) 21. Total (for six wkts., in 49 overs) 230.

Fall of wkts: 1-61, 2-70, 3-72, 4-80, 5-92, 6-210.

England bowling: Anderson 10-0-60-1; Ali 7-0-50-0; Flintoff 10-0-29-1; Blackwell 9-1-39-2; Plunkett 9-3-29-1; Collingwood 4-0-19-0.