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India vs Zimbabwe: A song of ice & fire

Cool Dhoni calms combustible Raina down to rescue India from a spot of bother vs Zimbabwe.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Suresh Raina Dhoni (85*) chats with Raina (110*) during their 196-run partnership for the fifth wicket on Saturday. (Source: Solaris Images)

Frenetic energy and serenity. Emotions on sleeve and impassiveness. Urge to constantly attack and a sixth sense about when to attack. Abandon and restraint. Suresh Raina and MS Dhoni, two contrasting batsmen added 196 runs in an utterly fascinating partnership to thwart Brendan Taylor’s Zimbabwe from pulling off an upset. Zimbabwe had rode on Taylor’s emotional farewell ton to reach 288 and reduced India to 92/4 in the 23rd over, but Dhoni and Raina did the job. (Full Coverage| Points table| Fixtures)

Frequent walks down the pitch for a bit of counsel, and the nodding of the head — those were the vignettes from the stand that won the day for India. The chats that Dhoni had with Raina, often after an over-ambitious attempt, highlighted how intimately Dhoni knows Raina the batsman and how that knowledge helps Raina overcome his nervous energy and be at his best.

There was no doubt that if the pair hung around for a while, the target would be overcome as the bowling didn’t have great depth. It was clear that Dhoni wasn’t going to implode and so the question was simply this: Would Raina self-destruct? Zimbabwe had their great opportunity after Raina top-edged a sweep shot, with India needing 131 runs from 91 balls, but Hamilton Masakadza clanged it. It still wasn’t over, though.

Taylor, who was captaining Zimbabwe, seemed to know that Raina will find it hard to resist the temptation to score quickly. And so, for the majority of the chase, he left these cheese-bites for Raina. A gap here and there, an unmanned area of temptation, and either due to confidence or impatience or both, Raina was falling for them. The off-side was packed, and on the leg-side stood a short fine-leg. No one was behind that man and Raina knew a four was there for the taking. And so he shuffled to the off and went for that on-side heave that he plays. He doesn’t quite flick or deflect but tries to force the ball in those times, and that urge often affects his timing.

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On Saturday, Taylor’s plan nearly worked a few times — the ball just missed the leg stump or went dangerously close to that fielder at short fine-leg. Dhoni walked across nearly every time. “You’ve to constantly tell Raina to come down from fifth gear to third gear,” Dhoni would say at the presser with a smile. In the middle, in the heat of the battle, there weren’t many smiles. The lips moved, the head nodded and all was well for a while before Taylor shifted the bait.

Once Raina stopped shuffling across, trying to drag deliveries to the leg, Taylor’s bowlers started to slant them across Raina. A short third man was a touch wide, and there was the gap between him and the ’keeper Taylor. The gap was big enough for someone with the skill of Arjuna Ranatunga to keep pinging it but Raina’s late-cut/dab isn’t as good as the Sri Lankan legend’s. It led to a rather interesting, and amusing, self-berating from Raina: a wince, a muffled cry at the opportunity lost, and the thumping of the bat in disappointment. In an effort to try getting it fine enough to pierce the gap, Raina tried to dab in acute angles and the ball narrowly missed the bat’s edge and the off stump a few times. Cue more advice from Dhoni.

This jugal-bandi between the icy-cool captain, who is possibly the greatest finisher in ODIs, and an adventurous batsman was fascinating to watch. “MS told me that I just can’t smash every ball, but he did back my strengths on the field,” Raina said after bagging the man of the match award.

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In between all those urges of self-destruction, Raina drove, lofted, swept, and charged out successfully. With Dhoni yet again in one of those moods to stay right till the end, India won their tenth successive game in World Cups, their sixth in this tournament and will now play Bangladesh in the quarters.

First published on: 15-03-2015 at 04:14:10 am
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