It looked as if the Test series had returned in color clothing and white ball at the picturesque Sophia Gardens in Cardiff on Wednesday. James Anderson was repeatedly beating the outside edge. India were two down for 19 by the eighth over. And Virat Kohli was out for a duck.
This was after Alastair had called the coin correctly and decided to bowl. A logical decision since India’s batting was going through a crisis of confidence. And even if there was turnaround and India did manage to string together a decent target, the expected afternoon rain would bring Duckworth-Lewis into play. A little sensible batting, and the hosts would be comfortably home.
Only, before the rain, Raina arrived. Big time. Without any previous warning.
Suresh Raina’s name on the team sheet this morning must have raised a few eyebrows. As recently as seven months ago, the left-hander was dropped from the playing XI after struggling in the rather alien conditions of New Zealand. Then, for the Asia Cup in the familiar environs of Bangladesh, he was dropped from the squad altogether.
He did come back for a three-match bilateral series versus Bangladesh in June, but perhaps only because many top stars chose to skip it. Then in England, in the practice match versus Middlesex at Lord’s last week, Raina came on to bat at No.11. Well after the man who edged him out of the XI, Ambati Rayudu, retired out after making 72.
At any rate, in the countries where the ball bounces, swings or seams — country’s such as England, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand — his batting record has been dismal: an average of 29 in 38 matches before Wednesday. But even more than that what makes him an unlikely starter is that Raina doesn’t look the guy who will see you through when the ball is moving in the air or off the seam the way someone like, say, Rayudu looks. The point is, because of his suspect technique, his place is more open to question than many of his peers’.
However, after an explosive, counterattacking 75-ball 100 against England in the second One-Day International, a ton that led India to 304-6 and laid the foundations of an massive 133-run victory (D/L), Raina ensured his position in the team won’t come under scrutiny for a while —even if it’s not a very long while.
To be certain, Raina’s had his share of luck today, but no more than most have during the course of a big knock. He walked out to bat when the pressure had eased up significantly. After battling initially, Rohit Sharma was closing in on a half-century, while Ajinkya Rahane had made 41 before getting out to off-spinner James Tredwell.
The left-hander’s strokeplay was unconvincing early on. There were play-and-misses and French cuts, and top edges that flew into the stands. But the biggest slice of chance came when on 17, he failed to read a Tredwell arm ball that rapped him on the pads right in front. England fielders appealed in unison, but surely Raina’s guardian angel must have whispered ‘not out’ in umpire Paul Reiffel’s ears.
India were 137 for four at that time. Rohit has just gotten out, and given the visitors penchant for collapses this summer in England, one couldn’t rule out a recurrence.
It didn’t come. What did come though was a fightback. With captain MS Dhoni in his company, Raina began assert himself. His French cut four off Anderson, which flew just wide of the keeper, brought up India’s 150 in the 35th over. However, it was in the batting powerplay starting next over that Raina truly exploded.
Chris Woakes came on to bowl the 36th. Woakes, who looks like a spitting image of Spainish footballer Fernando Torres, was as effective in his first spell as Torres was at Liverpool. He took two wickets for just 8 runs in his first five overs.
In his second spell, Woakes was more like ‘El Nino’ from his Chelsea years — an impostor. In the third powerplay over, the 38th of the innings, Raina lofted Woakes over his head and then ran a single to bring up his half century (49 balls). A top-edge hook off the same bowler over fine-leg brought up the 50-run partnership. Of which Dhoni’s contribution was 9.
India raced away from 150 to 200 in just 29 balls as the powerplay, which included an 11-ball, five-wide over by Chris Jordan (he would bowl 12 of those), yielded 62 runs. All this while, Raina spared no bowler, not even Anderson and creamed the bowler for three consecutive fours in the 40th over.
The UP batsman raced away into the 90s with back to back fours off Ben Stokes and with a single off a Jordan full toss, brought up a memorable hundred. His first in four years seven months and 13 days, and his first-ever outside the sub-continent. Raina perished soon after, to Woakes, but not before preparing a platform for the bowlers to bowl India to their first high after the abysmal lows of the past one month.
Rain followed Raina, and the target was revised to 295 from 47 overs. Cook and debutant Alex Hales gave England a half-century starts. But after the skipper fell to a dubious lbw decision off Mohammad Shami, England’s wheels came off. Ravindra Jadeja, pedestrian during the Tests, looked unplayable here as the home team lost their next nine wickets for just 107 runs to be bowled out for 168 in 38.1 overs.
Colour returned to the Indian camp with a 1-0 lead. But a word of caution here: The last time MS Dhoni & Co led a five-match series after game two, they went on to lose it 3-1.