Suresh Raina looked in sublime touch at Cardiff © Getty Images
Suresh Raina looked in sublime touch at Cardiff © Getty Images

Suresh Raina’s century was arguably one of the best innings by an Indian overseas in One-Day Internationals (ODIs). The batsman who was dropped from the team six months ago is already making news as the ideal No 5 for India heading to World Cup. Abhijit Banare analyses Raina’s innings and his value for the team ahead of the marquee tournament.

The moment Suresh Raina walked out to bat, a barrage of ‘short ball’ tweets followed. One of them read: “James Tredwell is setting his field for bowling a bouncer to Suresh Raina.” (For the uninitiated, Tredwell is a spinner). In just over an hour’s play, Raina had shifted the balance of the match. The innings was filled with ‘authentic cricket shots’ as MS Dhoni described it after the match. The fluency with which he paces his innings is a delight to watch.

Putting things in the  greater perspective, this century should ideally be considered as one good innings. Dhoni put across his message clearly to both Raina and the media when he said, “The thing is that if a batsman plays one good innings, he is put up on a pedestal. If he doesn’t play good cricket or indeed if Raina had not played this innings, the questions could have been very different. If Raina doesn’t score in a couple of games against the West Indies (at home in October), some other questions will be asked. So let us just say that it was a very good hundred. The World Cup is still three-four series away.”

Raina’s fluency can often be misleading. With close to 200 ODIs under his belt, both the fans and his teammates are aware that a century can easily followed by a sluggish stay at the crease before being trapped by the bowler. Perhaps Dhoni’s comment did hint at that inconsistency. On one hand, his career average of 35.81 seems ordinary for a batsman with such experience and at the same time it doesn’t show the number of matches in which he has been a finisher.

Is the short ball still a concern?  Much of Raina’s inconsistency has stemmed from his inability to curb the short ball menace. At Cardiff, Raina though did not look comfortable but was not seen hopping either. He was tested with a few short balls in the World T20 and he looked technically more sound in dealing with those deliveries. The hard work put in while the team was playing Tests is visible. These days Raina does not look to survive off the short ball; instead, he looks at it as scoring opportunities. Of course you can end up getting the top-edge with such positivity but the mental block against short ball seems to be out of his way. He is possibly on par with Shikhar Dhawan in terms of contribution to the side. This left-hander was never afraid of short balls but his positive approach has often left to him gifting his wicket to them. Hence Raina still has some time to overcome the menace especially when he faces tall bowlers and bats on wickets with more bounce. But his progress so far does give a positive sign for India.

The No 5 debate: Before he was dropped, Dhoni had said in a press conference that he was looking up to Raina as a No 4 batsman after Yuvraj Singh’s dismal run. Raina did not do well either and ended up facing the axe as well. However, the No 5 position seems to suit him much better. The chances are that Raina would be aiming to steer the team in the middle overs and give them a big finish. When a free-flowing player like him is forced to bat cautiously and anchor the innings at No 4, seven out of ten times he will end up gifting his wicket away trying to curb his natural instincts. And even the Indian skipper looked convinced with Raina’s innings at that position and the solid innings from Ajinkya Rahane at No 4.

Raina is one of the batsmen has seldom looked out of form. He has ensured one purple patch every year when he walks out to bat in yellow jersey. A tally of 400 in each of the Indian Premier League season makes it evident that talent isn’t a doubt. It’s just that he needs to replicate his efforts more often; not necessarily a ton but at look  at ease in different conditions. In other departments, Raina as the part-time bowler and Raina as the fielder, Raina is all very much in place, especially in subcontinent.

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(Abhijit Banare is a reporter at CricketCountry. He is an avid quizzer and loves to analyse and dig out interesting facts which allows him to learn something new every day. Apart from cricket he also likes to keep a sharp eye on Indian politics, and can be followed on Twitter and blog)