It’s easy to like Suresh Raina but easier to diss him. Of all the modern-day Indian batsmen, especially those who star in the ODIs and T20s, Raina has found it most difficult to get advertisements. You might say that it’s no co-relation to his cricket but it does say something about how people view him. The brand-people go seldom wrong in feeling the popular pulse. There has to be some reason. (Full Coverage| Venues | Fixtures)
He has won games in T20s, shifted the momentum of many an ODI, but he is a man who is easily made fun of. We go, ‘Oh he can’t play the short ball, he struggles against seaming deliveries, he has brain explosions, and cannot be trusted to finish matches on his own’. All of it true to an extent but somehow he is judged through his failures in Test cricket. Also, his relationship with his captain MS Dhoni has always been viewed a touch cynically. You must have heard it — that he is a friend and that he gets some advantage out of it. Who was made captain first when Dhoni didn’t play a couple of series? Not Virat Kohli but Raina. Who was given a chance at No. 3 a few times but couldn’t cement his spot? Raina. Afterward, Kohli stormed the scene and took over that spot and the captaincy now. Who wore Dhoni’s jersey after his Test retirement and went out to bat? Raina of course.
Even his movements on the field are viewed with a touch of scepticism. He runs here and there, pats his team-mates on good fielding efforts, and climbs on bowlers when they take wickets, and is generally the most active man on the field.
The cynics grumble about him being an “actor” in those moments. Earnest to some, actor to many, that’s the burden that Raina carries. On Saturday, Dhoni came out with some strong support of Raina in public. Usually, he mutters a few lines here and there but has rarely spoken out so strongly. Sample this about batting at No. 5. “He’s the best that we have got and we need to back him. Because if we don’t back him, the new guy who comes in will say: ‘I don’t want to play shots. I’ll make 25 runs and go home not out.”
That’s a wonderful point, the best case for Raina that has been made thus far. Dhoni hasn’t said that Raina is a great no. 5 but has placed him in context in the history of Indian cricket and more importantly has made the value judgment by looking at it through a future No. 5’s attitude.
It’s a point that needs to be stressed more to understand Raina’s predicament. The strike rate is a crucial point that Dhoni makes. “If you keep emphasizing on runs, then a person will start playing for himself. He’ll say: ‘Why should I play an extra shot and take a risk? 45 overs have been bowled. I’ll make 25 or 30 and remain not out and be happy.’ But we don’t want to encourage that habit. Our attempt will be to score as many runs as possible. Because no score is safe in modern cricket.”
Dhoni also put things in perspective about the inherent pressure in that spot. “Also, when you speak of number 5, how many Indian players have been successful there? Yuvraj Singh was the only one who consistently did well for us and then he got promoted to four.”
“Other than that we’ve been shuffling everyone else. Kohli and Rohit Sharma have batted there; nobody really has been successful. If you go and bat in the 40th over, how many runs can you score? If you get out, you’ll get out for 20-25 runs and after the third or fourth game, they’ll say: ‘He’s out of form. He’s only made 20 runs.’ But that’s the point where the strike rate is more important.” You can also view it as Dhoni backing a ‘friend’ but it’s what it is. He spoke about the short-ball problem of Raina. “There are batsmen from other countries who also get out to the short ball, but only we are labelled as being susceptible against it.”
Raina the Test batsman has lots to prove but Raina the limited-overs batsman needs just one thing more: the ability to finish off games. That ability to see it through the end. But then if he manages to do it, then he will be a Michael Bevan or Dhoni.