Raina in the white and Raina in blue are two different players

Suresh Raina may be a good one-day player and by the time he finishes he may be in the same league as Michael Bevan. He can aspire to join Bevan’s league in ODIs but he has to work hard to avoid the Australian’s fate in Test cricket © Getty Images

 

By Nishad Pai Vaidya

 

Suresh Raina’s aggressive 84 in the fourth One-Day International (ODI) at Lord’s was a reminder of his destructive ability in limited-overs cricket. A torrid time in the Test series exposed his limitations against the short ball, but in the one-dayers he has looked a completely different player. Raina in the blues of India and the one in the whites are two different players. The one donning the blue jersey has a positive body language and looks ready for the challenge. In contrast, the one in the whites looks nervous, tentative and clueless in the middle.

 

Raina had a very good start to the English summer. A hundred in the tour game against Somerset gave one the impression that he would adjust well to the English conditions and that he deserves to play for India in Test series. A fighting 78 in the second innings at Lord’s indicated that he had worked on his technique and was ready to put aside fears surrounding his inability against the short deliveries.

 

However, it all went to downhill after the first Test as he struggled against the chin music from the English bowlers. He got so bogged down by the pressure applied by the English pace battery that he ended up losing his wicket to the off spinner Graeme Swann on a number of occasions. It was a surprise because Raina is known for his ability to play spin, but Graeme Swann tested him. Prior to the tour, even if Raina was expected to struggle in England, people would have foreseen him falling to the fast bowlers on most occasions. Out of eight innings, Swann bagged Raina’s wicket four times. Most of those dismissals came when Raina was trying to defend. What it tells us is that Raina may be a good attacking player of spin, but isn’t proficient when he tries to defend them.

 

Since the T20 at Manchester, Raina has looked at home in England. Whenever pitched short, he has made room and pulled it with belligerence towards square-leg or mid-wicket. In general, there has been a good flow in his game and the fluency in his strokeplay has returned. When he walks out in the blues, he finds himself in the zone of comfort; an area where he is destructive.

 

Despite his struggles in the Tests, one can safely say that Raina is one of the best one-day players in the world. This is because of his ability to clear the boundary with ease, brilliant running between the wickets, ability to pace his knock well and finish games.

 

Raina reminds us of Michael Bevan. The Indian has a long way to go to emulate Bevan’s feats in ODIs, but from the outset he seems to have taken the same path. Bevan was a fantastic one-day player, probably the greatest finisher. But, like Raina now, was found wanting in Test cricket due to his struggles against the short ball.

 

Bevan’s Test career ended prematurely as he wasn’t able to cope up with the demands of Test cricket. Raina may be a good one-day player and by the time he finishes he may be in the same league as Bevan, but he is in danger of losing out in Test cricket like the great Australian. Raina can aspire to join Bevan’s league in ODIs but he has to work hard to avoid the Australian’s fate in Test cricket.

 

Raina had said that he had worked on his technique against the short ball and learnt to keep his pull shot down. However, there is a huge difference in defending a short delivery and keeping a pull shot down. Similarly, defending an off-spinner and charging towards him are like chalk and cheese. Thus, it isn’t that Raina cannot play the short ball or the off spinner, but he needs to learn the art of defense. His current game play may get him through one-day cricket, but if he wants to succeed in Tests then he needs to tighten his defense against spin bowling and the short ball.

 

If he needs inspiration, he needn’t look beyond Sourav Ganguly. The former India captain Ganguly’s struggle against the short ball was well documented in his early days and teams around the world used to get the better of him. However, in the latter stages of his career he learnt how to get behind the ones pitched short and defend them back to the bowler. From that point, Ganguly played some of his best knocks in Test cricket and that adjustment made a huge difference to his game. Raina can take a leaf out of Ganguly’s book and work on his limitations.

 

The value of defense for a batsman in Test cricket is of paramount importance as it is the most basic requirement in the classical version. If a batsman is unsuccessful in implementing the bare minimum to his game, then his struggle in Test cricket is guaranteed. With the likes of Manoj Tiwary, Rohit Sharma, Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane waiting to fill in that coveted spot in India’s Test match line-up, Raina will have to work a lot harder at his shortcomings to remain in contention of a place in the Indian Test team.

 

(Nishad Pai Vaidya, a 20-year-old law student, is a club and college-level cricketer. His teachers always complain, “He knows the stats and facts of cricket more than the subjects we teach him.”)