TIME TO SHIFT GEARS

K.R. DEEPAK

Suresh Raina (in pic) is into his 10th year in international cricket and perhaps he is entering the best phase of his career.

Suresh Raina joins the 200 ODI appearances club, and it is no surprise that he has done it, given his talent and natural flair for stroke-play. He is into his 10th year in international cricket and perhaps he is entering the best phase of his career. I say this because he has gone through different swings in his career, and the experience garnered all these years would now provide him the base for launching himself to a different level. He has been a key player but yet, not in the same league as Yuvraj Singh in terms of being destructive. Or for that matter, he has not churned out mind-boggling numbers as Virat Kohli has, in the earlier half of his career either.

However, that does not make him any less a batsman, as he has made important contributions on several occasions. Perhaps the time has come for him to step out of the shadows of his colleagues and carve a niche for himself in the next few years of his career. He has evolved into an explosive hitter thanks to the Indian Premier League, and his consistency has improved as well in recent times. He will cherish the hundred in England, but the future holds great prospects for him.

Raina’s current stature in the team is enhanced, and he can choose the number he wants to bat at, unlike in the earlier years where he had no such luxury. Of course, his choice will have to factor in the needs of the team but as a seasoned campaigner, his opinion on where he can serve best will not be disregarded totally.

The dashing left-hander was not a regular in the 2011 World Cup but did play crucial knocks in the later stages of the tournament. Hence, he will be keen to be an integral part of the team down under in the coming World Cup. Technically, he is better equipped too, as he has overcome the issues against the short stuff. The true surfaces in Australia will facilitate stroke-play and the likes of Raina can really cash in. It remains to be seen how he approaches the big tournament given that a lot will be expected of him on the big occasion.

The tantalising question of whether he has achieved his full potential does dangle in the air, but I would rather say that his best is yet to come. Maybe he has not done justice by not establishing himself in Tests after a century on debut, but age is on his side to set that anomaly right. A lot of batsmen have played their best on either side of their thirties, and Raina is just about getting there. A full tour of Australia will be the ideal platform for him to catapult himself to greater heights. He may well have that opportunity round the corner, and if he can pull it off in all formats, Team India will have lesser concerns.

The reward of leading the country may not be bestowed on him again, but he needs to focus on bigger and better goals in the coming years. He has led the side in a few games and therefore that will figure in his CV as well. Talking of his CV, he will have to look at having more than 50 Test caps in it by the time he finishes his career. Of late, he has recognised the areas he needs to improve upon and has worked on them diligently. As such, there is no reason for him not to get firmly entrenched in the middle-order in Tests. It is something that he should make as his target, as there is no doubt with regard to his ability or temperament. Hopefully, he will have established his place in Test cricket by the time he finishes a decade in international cricket next July.