Suresh Raina © Getty Images
Suresh Raina recently worked with Pravin Amre to improve certain areas of his batting © Getty Images

By G Krishnan

Aug 29, 2014

As the India Test squad was struggling in the second half of the five-Test series in England, Suresh Raina, who scored a century in the second ODI, was chipping away the rough edges of his game — dealing with the short-pitched deliveries to be precise — with former India batsman and now coach Pravin Amre in Mumbai.

Amre told DNA, “Before he went to England, he came to me for four days. In fact, he had come to me after two years. Four days were very less, so it was more of communication with him, what he wanted to do to improve his batting. Sometimes, you tend to do too many things in this limited period that nothing works. We focussed on how he should tackle the short ball that the England bowlers would hurl at him. He was made to understand that leaving the ball was important as much as coming into a better position to play it.”

Short ball has been one of Raina’s short-comings that pacers straightaway pepper him with them the moment he is at the crease. The bowlers have often succeeded than not. But not on Wednesday.  Amre said, “I made him understand that it was not what people thought about his weakness towards short ball. I asked him what he thought about it and he was positive. ‘I can tackle the short ball,’ he said confidently, and so we worked on it.”

Many would have preferred Raina to carry on till the end rather than get out soon after making exactly 100, his fourth in 193 One Day Internationals (ODIs), and his first in 107 matches and four years-seven months. A limited-overs batsman of his calibre and talent would have been expected to score more centuries than he has. Even MS Dhoni, who bats after Raina, has nine ODI centuries to his credit.

Amre, who is Mumbai Ranji Trophy coach, said, “It is important to back yourself. I feel Raina is a most dangerous batsman in Team India after Dhoni. He can finish the game, he can be destructive in the death overs and has so many shots. If he can handle the part of leaving the ball, he can be effective.”And Raina showed that in plenty during his match-winning 100 in the second ODI in Cardiff on Wednesday. The knock was one of the best played by an Indian batsman in recent times. Former Indian captain Sourav Ganguly said on television that this knock stands right up there among the best.

Walking in at 110/3 with almost half the number of overs utilised, Raina had the chance to make himself counted and not let go the opportunity as he has done more often in the past. To be making a century straight away after landing in England — he had batted at No. 11 in the only warm-up match against Middlesex last week and made only five — meant some effort and also making some adjustments with his game.

It was a sort of comeback — a do or die — for the 27-year-old from Ghaziabad. He was ushered out of the playing XI for the last two ODIs on the tour of New Zealand earlier this year after not cashing in on the opportunity when plenty of overs were in hand. He was eventually dropped from the squad for the Asia Cup before returning to lead a young side to Bangladesh for the three-match series when the seniors were resting. There, when one expected Raina to end his century drought, he managed only 15*, 27 and 25.

Amre said he was particularly pleased that Raina has got that much-awaited century and did not agree that he could have scored more hundreds than the four in 166 innings. “Raina does not bat in the top-order. He goes at No. 5 or 6, and it is not always possible to convert (to three figures) the starts. I’m glad that he converted it on Wednesday. I am really happy for him. It was very crucial for him to get the hundred. He prepared particularly for this tour,” Amre said.

Complete coverage of India’s tour to England here

(G Krishnan qualified as an umpire from Tamil Nadu Cricket Association in 1997 before making sports journalism as a career. His other interests include wildlife and reading. Krishnan is Principal Correspondent of DNA, where the article first appeared)