Suresh Raina, a behemoth in limited-overs cricket

The left-hander with his wide range of shots and a natural ability to time the ball and pierce the field made a mark in the one-dayers and Twenty20s and his exceptional fielding added to his immense value to the side.

The drives, the cuts, the pulls and the punches and a natural instinct to attack — these were Suresh Raina’s strengths.   -  The Hindu Photo Library

Suresh Raina would remain an enigma in Indian cricket. During an informal dinner conversation with the charismatic Greg Chappell and his understudy Ian Frazer with this correspondent in the sleepy South African student town of Potchefstroom, circa 2006, Frazer made an astonishing statement. And Chappell nodded.

Frazer said, “Suresh Raina was more naturally talented at the same age than Michael Clarke.” The Aussie had made quite a reputation in international cricket by then and this was a big statement by Frazer, supported by Chappell, to make.

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By that time, Raina, graduating from the Indian under-19 side, had played for the country in ODIs where he made a name for himself as a dynamic left-hander who could change gears with ease and a brilliant fielder.

Chappell would say, “You have a guy like Raina in the team and he could lift the side’s morale with a single act of brilliant fielding. A brilliant stop, a direct hit and the game changes course.”

And then Raina could wade into the bowling with his terrific bat speed and footwork.. His presence of mind in the shorter formats was wonderful. The drives, the cuts, the pulls and the punches and a natural instinct to attack — these were Raina’s strengths.

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Yet when Raina, now 33, announced his retirement from international cricket along with his friend and mentor Mahendra Singh Dhoni, one was left wondering at his failure to transform his enormous ability to Test cricket.

He had all the shots. Raina cover-drove and cut the pacemen, used his feet and lofted, drove and swept the spinners. Although not wafer tight, his defence was sound.

In fact, Raina, already a ODI and Twenty20 star by then, began with a Test hundred, a battling 120 against Sri Lanka in Colombo’s SSC stadium in 2010. He applied himself on debut, walked in during a testing phase and came up with an innings of solidity, substance and enormous promise.

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Raina followed this up with scores of 62 and a crucial match-winning unbeaten 41 as India won the third Test at P. Sara Stadium.

Things kept getting better for Raina. His 86 at the expense of the Aussie attack, late in 2010, played a significant role in India’s last gasp one-wicket win in that humdinger in Mohali.

Then word gradually got around that the left-hander was not exactly comfortable against short-pitched bowling from the quicks. He would get opened up, be chest-on, instead of countering them from an ideal side-on position.

Australian great Greg Chappell had this to say about Raina: “You have a guy like Raina in the team and he could lift the side’s morale with a single act of brilliant fielding. A brilliant stop, a direct hit and the game changes course.”   -  AP

 

Gradually, Raina’s graph in Test dropped. Still he had his moments which included a Test-clinching 82 in Kingston, West Indies, on a surface of uneven bounce in 2011.

And he did come up with a fighting 78 in difficult batting conditions at Lord’s in 2011. His Test career though petered away. Raina’s last three Test innings were blobs. He ended with a disappointing 768 runs at 26.48 from 18 Tests.

However, the dasher from the dusty lanes of Ghaziabad was among India’s finest in the shorter versions with his dare, flair and a penchant for opening up the field. He was a bold force and an impact player.

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The left-hander with his wide range of shots and a natural ability to time the ball and pierce the field made 5,615 runs in 226 ODIs at a stunning strike rate of 93. 50. And Raina played his role in India’s triumphant World Cup campaign in 2011 with a delightful cameo against the threatening Australia in the quarterfinal in Ahmedabad. He finished the game with a barrage of shots along with an inspired Yuvraj Singh as Indian nailed a tight, tense game.

Soon, he led India in the shorter formats on the tour of the Caribbean in 2011. Those were his glory days.

And in Twenty20 cricket, he was a formidable force; He innovated and created. Raina’s exceptional fielding added to his immense value to the side. In 78 Twenty20 internationals, Raina notched up 1605 runs at a sizzling strike rate of 134.87.

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Apart from his electric fielding, Raina could send down useful off-spin; he released the ball late, picked up the initial reaction of the batsmen.

Although he was a roaring success in the IPL — here he remains among the biggest game changers — Raina’s last few years in international cricket were difficult and that he couldn’t clear the Yo Yo Test hurt the pride of this otherwise outstanding fielder and runner between the wickets.

In the years ahead, he still threatens to be an explosive player in IPL for Chennai Super Kings. Dhoni and Chennai have been inspiring factors in his career. In T20s, Raina is still a powerhouse.