Much like his batting, there is an element of uncomplicated flair in IPL’s newest entrant, Gujarat Lions’ captain, Suresh Raina’s choice of words. When asked about the blueprint of his side for the next two seasons in the IPL, he quips, “Blueprint? I don’t have any such thing…we have a team, which is a blend of domestic and international players, and our aim is to create a team of fearless cricketers,” he says.
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The upcoming edition of the IPL brings with it a whole new set of challenges for the 29-year-old. After spending eight seasons with the CSK under MS Dhoni, Raina is now entrusted with the task of leading a new team. He, however, sees this as a glorious opportunity to forge together a team of like-minded individuals, who are hungry to win at all costs. With Dwayne Smith, Brendon McCullum, Aaron Finch, Dwayne Bravo and James Faulkner, to name a few, will be their international stars. To complement them, they have Pradeep Sangwan and Paras Dogra, who have been consistent performers in the domestic circuit.
For Raina, both CSK and Dhoni would turn out to be recurrent themes – something which would give us an insight into his template in the future as a captain. “During my stint with the CSK, we had arguably the best captain in the world in Dhoni. However, he had at his disposal a host of extremely talented players like Faf Du Plessis, Ravichandran Ashwin and Brendon McCullum to name a few. These guys had the skills to execute the captain’s plans,” he says.
The Gujarat Lions captain wants to inculcate a similar culture in his new set-up in which a core group of players — a mix of international and domestic players — would play to their potential and execute the plans. He adds that it is the “winning culture” which had helped CSK be a force in the IPL season after season for over eight years. “I want to imbibe a similar culture in this team,” he adds.
Like in the CSK, openers Dwayne Smith and Brendon McCullum, too will be vital cogs in this Gujarat Lions squad at the top of the order. Raina concedes how he and the Gujarat Lions think-tank went all out to pick the duo at the auction earlier this month. Like Dhoni, Raina seems remarkably understated about his new role as captain of the IPL’s latest entrant. “Captaincy is just a number. For me, cricket is all about the team.”
Five days ago, at the jersey launch of the Pune Supergiants, Dhoni, the franchise’s captain conceded that CSK was still very much part of his cricketing psyche, and how he found it “difficult to move on.” Raina too was a touch emotional of discarding the yellow jersey, but added that the only way forward was to move on. “Leaving a franchise like CSK is very difficult…we had a bunch of some great players, headed by a world-class captain and a coach in Stephen Fleming. Nothing can replicate that. However, life goes on.”
There were no details regarding Raina’s batting position in the Gujarat Lions team, and details regarding the team composition were also largely sketchy. He has his reasons. “I have still not got time to get into the specifics of the team. Our coach Brad Hodge will decide on it later. We will also be having a camp once the World Cup ends to prepare for the IPL,” he adds.
There is still some time before we will get to see Raina marshalling his new team. Before that he has his international commitments to look forward to, namely the Asia Cup, and then the World T20 next month. Raina will play a key role in the Asia Cup, which he sees the tournament as an ideal preparatory ground before the hosts head into the coveted ICC tournament. “Asia Cup will be good preparation for us. If we win, we will take the momentum to World Cup, and will definitely be in contention for the top four of the World Cup.”