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Following the Lord’s Test, all had seemed to go wrong for India on the England tour — till Suresh Raina came to party with a dazzling hundred at Cardiff. Abhishek Mukherjee lauds a performance to silence his critics.
Ask any armchair expert, and they will tell you Suresh Raina cannot play bounce. They will crack jokes (on Twitter and off it) regarding his ineptitude to handle bounce, especially overseas. They had sorted him out on his last Test tour to England, where he managed a mere 105 at 13.12; 78 of those runs had come in a single innings at Lord’s.
He has struggled in the 50-over format off late as well: his last fifty had come last year, that too against Zimbabwe at Bulawayo. Take away that innings, and his last fifty outside Asia had come in 2011, against England at Lord’s; barring those two, his only One-Day International (ODI) fifty outside Asia had come against New Zealand at Napier in 2008-09. Before today he averaged 28.24 from 62 matches, albeit at a tremendous strike rate of 91.
After a historic victory at Lord’s, India were defeated at Southampton, and utterly humiliated at Old Trafford and The Oval. The last two Tests saw all five top-order batsmen — Shikhar Dhawan, Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, and Ajinkya Rahane — suffering against the pace, accuracy, and movement of James Anderson and Stuart Broad, not to speak of the innocuous-looking off-breaks of Moeen Ali.
Frantic changes were made in the support system, but the problem remained: despite Broad’s injury, there was still Anderson to reckon with: who would handle him and his army?
It started with a sinking sense of déjà vu: Chris Woakes had Dhawan fishing and edging outside off-stump, and Kohli, desperate to break the shackles to get the scoreboard moving, holed out to Alastair Cook at mid-off after three balls. Rohit Sharma battled it out in the company of Rahane, but the innings seemed to go nowhere at 132 for four in the 30th over.
Ben Stokes had given Raina an easy start, allowing him to flick one to the mid-wicket boundary to get off the mark. Chris Jordan bounced at Raina, but the man — who was never expected to handle quality — avoided it with ease. But that was Jordan: there was still Anderson to handle.
Anderson bowled wide, Raina gave it his everything, and got away as the inside edge beat Jos Buttler. A furious Anderson ran in and unleashed a bouncer on leg-and-middle; Raina was caught in two minds for a moment, but decided against the pull and let it go with ease. Anderson pitched short again, but erred in line: the square-cut raced past point.
On came Woakes, and Raina did not hesitate to launch into him: Woakes had to be taken off after conceding two sixes and one four in the same over. Cook brought Anderson back, Raina moved outside leg, Anderson followed him, and Raina placed it to fine-leg for four. Anderson bounced the next ball, and Raina went for the pull: the top-edge flew over Buttler. Then came the shot of the innings — a regal cover-drive. Raina had arrived.
James Tredwell did not have a chance. Stokes tried pitching up and was taken for consecutive boundaries. The hundred came up with a full-toss from Jordan that took him by surprise. He was out next ball going for a slog, but he had done what the Test stars could not: infuse some confidence into the fragile-looking batting order.
The innings may still not result in a win, but Raina has possibly outdone what was expected of him. He has probably helped his colleagues shed away the horrors of Old Trafford and The Oval. He has silenced his critics, and perhaps, at least for a couple of dreams, critics of the Indian side as well.
Maybe there is still hope, after all.
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