Suresh Raina will figure in the Test squad that will be named sometime after the limited-overs leg of the series ends on October 22 © Getty Images (File Photo)
Suresh Raina will figure in the Test squad that will be named sometime after the limited-overs leg of the series ends on October 22 © Getty Images (File Photo)

By Derek Abraham

Oct 15, 2014

A week after director of cricket says he will get southpaw back into Test team, UP batsman is named skipper of Board President’s XI to play West Indies in three-day game.

Being Suresh Raina is both easy and difficult.

Home or away, summer or winter, his place in the ODI, Twenty20 and Chennai Super Kings squads is a given. And why not? Talented and reliable in equal measure as a batsman and fielder, the southpaw can change the course of a 50- or 20-over game with his brilliance. Always the first to run up to the man who’s picked up a wicket, taken a catch, effected a run-out or stopped a certain boundary, Raina is omnipresent. In fact, it would only be fitting to call him the life and soul of the team.

Now, here’s the difficult part: in spite of all that energy, experience, goodwill and willpower, he can’t bat to save himself, or the team, in the longer format of the game. His temperament stands questioned and technique terribly exposed. For the statistically inclined, he played the last of his 17 Tests in August 2012. The overall numbers are anything but pleasing: 768 runs in 29 innings with a sub-30 average to boot.

This tells us that watching Raina in blue pyjamas is an entirely different experience from watching him in white flannels. It’s a classic case of contrasting reputations.

Apart from skipper MS Dhoni, who has understandably backed his long-time mate through thick and thin, Raina has found a fan in Ravi Shastri. In an interaction with the Mumbai media last week, Team India‘s director of cricket made public his fondness for Raina in no uncertain terms.

“The more I see him play, he is brilliant to watch,” Shastri, who was clearly high on Champions League T20 action, said. “It will be my endeavour, really, to do something that will get him back into the Indian Test team. He is a class act,” he added. “When he is going (great guns), he is a treat to watch. Even at times when I see him bat at the nets, when the ball hits the bat, just that sound or sense of timing, you know, it is something different.

Let’s hope, fingers crossed.”

During the same interaction, Shastri proudly claimed that he and the selectors were on the same page. In other words, the team management would get whichever player it wanted. Shastri can uncross his fingers now. On Tuesday, Sandeep Patil & Co. named Raina in the 14-member Board President’s XI squad that will take on the West Indians in a three-day game in Kanpur from October 25-27. Why, they’ve even made him skipper.

This effectively means Raina will figure in the Test squad that will be named sometime after the limited-overs leg of the series ends on October 22. The Kanpur game is the management’s way of telling him to gear up for another return to the five-day arena which he had set alight with a ton on debut in 2010. It won’t be easy because apart from leading the side, Raina will be involved in a straight fight with Rohit Sharma, who is all set to make a comeback after nursing a broken finger. One of them will occupy the No. 6 slot in the three-match Test series starting on October 30.

Several other young, talented, untested but more deserving players like Jiwanjot Singh, last season’s Ranji topper KL Rahul, Naman Ojha and Karun Nair will figure in that game. So will the eternally unlucky and overlooked Manoj Tiwary and Wriddhiman Saha, The big question is: when will Shastri, or anyone else who matters, develop a fondness for them? The least Raina can do is prove Shastri and Dhoni right. Who knows when the next lifeline will come his way?

Board President XI squad: Suresh Raina (c), Jiwanjot Singh, KL Rahul, Naman Ojha(wk), R Sharma, Manoj Tiwary, Wriddhiman Saha(wk), Karun Nair, Parvez Rasool, Pankaj Singh, Ishwar Pandey, Jasprit Bumrah, Karn Sharma, Kedar Jadhav.

Complete coverage of India vs West Indies 2014

(The writer is Principal Correspondent at DNA, where the above article first appeared)