Like the flickering status of one’s social media account, Suresh Raina isn’t the most active member of the Indian team.
It’s not that he wouldn’t like to feature anymore. Who doesn’t want to wear the India jersey, the dazzling blue colors?
It’s now a question of whether there’s an assured spot for Suresh Raina in the current scheme of things.
Perhaps somewhere, like a Rayudu- conveniently played and discarded- and Manish Pandey- often played with the same regularity with which a healthy sleeper uses a pill to doze off- Raina’s white-ball career appears uncertain.
It appears to be walking on uncertain, if not week legs.
But was that the case back in 2013-14, one wonders?
You don’t need to be Einstein to understand much of the current youth-centric make up of the side hadn’t yet cemented its place in the core unit.
There’s Pant, a powerful if not an ideal successor to Dhoni. Khaleel is a new ball partner to Bhuvi, one who can play minus appearing as a replacement to an often injured Bumrah, the yorker-man bowling as good as ever. There’s Prithvi Shaw waiting from the sidelines to be a regular member.
Kohli is, of course, in the form of his life and merely 30.
Raina has just turned 32.
But was the uncertainty regarding Raina featuring in the eleven highly pronounced back in time?
Here’s a perspective. Next year, India will move every inch of their muscle to lift the long-awaited World Cup. They felt the glory seven years back.
He is an urban legend now
It’s a feel-good rewind story played every weekened on tv.
Those players are gone, only Kohli is around from that time. Dhoni’s career is, well, but on its last legs. Shouldn’t Kohli want at least one experienced hand from that moment of glory in order to script something memorable again?
That guy is Suresh Raina if at all, Kohli’s policy isn’t all youth encompassing. Else, as the last stroke of a gamble, there’s Yuvraj Singh available too.
But well, let’s focus on a man responsible for 226 ODI outings, 36 fifties, and 5 tons. There’s also a strike rate of 93 if anyone had doubts about a man who together with Jadeja and Dhoni made for a famous troika in Indian ODI cricket.
Ever wondered when was the most active year for Suresh Raina as an international cricketer?
That was 2013.
Back then, he was still in his twenties. If you wish to understand just how much the world around Raina changed, since then, then simply pushing the rewind button helps.
2013 was a year where Raina played 34 ODIs, the most he’s ever played in his career.
Back then, Indian cricket had only just managed to breathe with the idea of living without Sachin Tendulkar. Back then Dhoni with a remote possibility of grey hair was at his peak. Yuvi was going strong.
Bhuvi, Bumrah weren’t new ball specialists. Kuldeep was probably a fanboy minus his proud jersey.
Interestingly, Raina had already fired 22 of his 35 fifties and collected 3 ODI hundreds. And that was that. From 2013 onward, Raina seems to have become a famous actor who makes a special appearance in a magnum opus called Team India.
Lest it is forgotten, he was once an important figure in a structure called ‘Men in Blue!’
Back then, in 2013 alone, when Raina’s presence was a stimulus for India chasing down big scores and compiling huge ones, Raina plundered 770 runs from just 27 ODI innings.
That stat included 5 instrumental fifties, nearly a seventh of his aggregate.
But the luminosity of Raina’s effort seems to have faded. You needn’t be tutored to believe this. It’s a fact. Having said that, is it only Raina’s fault or something to do with things like horrible form?
Here’s a clue.
Numbers don’t lie. They weren’t told to grow up like that.
Let’s cut the crap.
In 2014, Raina averaged 38 in ODIs, playing 16 games and collecting 539 runs. He struck a hundred that year. His 100 flew India to a galloping win at Cardiff. Kohli made a duck in that match and Dhawan and Rohit were merely pushovers. India still beat England by 133 runs.
There was actually nothing doubting Raina’s form for his strike rate in ODIs was 114 that season.
Next year, his average would dip a bit, receding to 32.5 whilst he’d gather 4 fifties and 1 century from 17 attempts that yielded 517 runs. Would you call it misery with the bat when a strike rate is nearly 100?
What happened to Raina thereafter is anyone’s guess. India has been on a strict youth policy, the biggest manifestation of which was felt in Dhoni’s ax from the Australia tour.
It’s not that dropping experienced players- in lines with favoring the youth if that’s the case- is a first-time occurrence.
Dhoni himself dropped the bombshell on Dravid and Laxman- whether one likes it or not- in 2007.
None saw that coming?
Had Raina’s fitness, batting form real concerns, one might have understood.
Today, you needn’t be a daredevil to declare that what’s happened to Raina in the current structure of the team is a bit of a nasty surprise, more than being a sudden wake-up for selectors.
Here’s what Raina brings to the side.
The scene is 2011 semi’s against Pakistan. Sehwag is gone. But he’s given us a start. Yuvi has departed with a rare failure. Raina walks in with no more than few death overs to go.
Sachin- dropped thrice- is leading a charmed life. In the end, we see the score plummet to 260. Once, it was 205-6. The fact is Suresh Raina has clubbed a 39-ball-36. He’s the last man standing when all have departed, including Kohli, Dhoni, Harbhajan.
Next game, as India beat the Aussies by 5 wickets, only one batsman in the ranks has scored at a strike rate in excess of 120. In so doing, he’s made an unbeaten 28 off 34, giving Yuvraj a handy company from the other end.
It’s critically fulfilling to note that in both these games, Raina stepped down to fast bowlers of a very high pedigree, such as Umar Gul, once Pakistan’s mainstay and on the other occasion, Lee, Brett Lee!
These two knocks, in effect, sum up Raina’s character.
Suresh Raina was a fearless batsman.
For someone who didn’t have an awful amount of time to settle down, getting out to bat usually around 30-35th over, life wasn’t always easy.
Yet, Raina, in collecting nearly 2450, that’s half of his 5600 ODI runs, accepted a big challenge with a smile.
He didn’t crib. He didn’t seem flustered. He wasn’t some Bodhidharma or whatever. He was a passionate bloke who likes a good whack with the bat.
Somehow you felt, seeing a troubled scorecard challenged Raina, instead of pressurizing him.
In some ways, he did for India what a Bevan did for Australia or a Hooper did for Windies where Lara and Chanderpaul failed.
Yet, he was, by contrast, a far too aggressive a batsman, yet someone whose game wasn’t sullied by the lust to play blindingly bad or burly shots.
He might not have put a high price on his wicket of the kinds one of his inspirations did, Rahul Dravid, who also handed out Suresh Raina his ODI cap, but the leftie upset the rhythm of most well-set bowlers and wasn’t an easy bloke to tame.
At 32, it’s ridiculous and a bit of a shame to think that Raina is old and a ‘have been.’
Nothing could be farther from the truth.
Yet, nothing of what we might feel- Raina’s alacrity to accept challenges, going airborne to grab blinders- is going to suffice. For we aren’t the selectors. In a way, thankfully, we don’t have the job that Kohli, Shastri and the rest of the ‘think tank’ has on its shoulders.
That said, the die-hard fan will regard that Raina can still be viewed as both- a bit of a wild-card for the World Cup as well as a trump card, depending on how you view the situation.