TUCKED away in a corner of Shivaji Park, the cricket mecca of Mumbai, are a bunch of inconspicuous tennis courts. In mid-August, it’s here that Pravin Amre would discover the remedy for Suresh Raina’s prolonged battle against the short-ball- the man with the fastest serve at the Gymkhana.
For the subsequent four days, the left-hander would end up facing thousands of ‘serves’ directed at his ribs and head without a helmet. And the hours of enduring this unconventional practice routine would eventually culminate in Raina producing a 75-ball century at Cardiff on Wednesday.
“I told him tu nahi khelega toh khayega (if you don’t play it, you’ll get hit). There was no helmet in place. What happens when the batsman has a helmet on is that he feels a lot more secure about his personal well-being, and doesn’t always get his head and body in the right position while playing the short ball. So, such an exercise routine ensures that the batsman sees the ball till the end,” Amre explained.
Amre had worked with Raina earlier. Back in 2012, the left-hander had hired the former India batsman-turned-coach as a personal batting mentor. But when he called Amre to request for a few sessions prior to leaving for the ODIs in England, there was but one overwhelming priority in Raina’s agenda. Despite having been a regular fixture in international cricket for close to eight years, the aggressive UP batsman had never managed to get the ‘short-ball’ albatross off his neck.
And on the day he headed to the Shivaji Park tennis-courts, Amre had just one thing in his mind — sorting out the one major frailty in Raina’s technique that opposition bowling attacks around the world had utilised incessantly to sort the left-hander out. But as Amre reveals now, his interim ward’s issues against rising deliveries were partly mental too.
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Using full blade
“I told him that people think he has a short-ball problem but in his heart, Raina knows that he can face it, and face it well. It was on this minor aspect that we worked on in these four sessions. I just wanted him to play the short-ball with the full blade of his bat,” Amre said.
Then followed the unique sessions at the Mumbai Cricket Association’s (MCA) indoor academy nets with the fast-server giving his shoulder a lengthy work-out. For years, Raina has had to deal with the tag of being a flat-track bully with major discrepancies when playing outside the sub-continent. At Cardiff’s Swalec Stadium, the 27-year-old not only was in his elements, charging down the wicket to the English seamers and lifting them into the stands, he even hooked a Chris Woakes delivery over the fine-leg fence for a six — even if he might not have been in complete control of the shot.
Back home, Amre sat glued in front of the television, and a day later insisted that Raina had not only tackled the short-ball challenge well, he had done it better than all his colleagues.
Having been dropped from the Indian ODI team just a few months earlier, this was a crucial knock for Raina, especially in terms of him cementing a place in the squad for next year’s World Cup. And thanks to Amre’s singular tutoring techniques, he had come good in scintillating fashion. Having turned into a professional coach over the last few years, Amre often quips about being like a “specialist who’s called upon by a patient who is unsure about his prognosis”.
On this occasion, he didn’t have to wait too long for his patient’s acknowledgment for having cured a long-standing disorder. “Thank you sir, this ton is for you,” the SMS read from Raina as Amre woke up on Thursday morning.”