Suresh Raina was Sudama to Dhoni’s Krishna, a bond now firmly entrenched with Raina’s decision to follow Dhoni into retirement. It will unsurprisingly elicit contrasting reactions from the cricketing world. There will be raves, typically from CSK fans among whom he is their much-loved chinna thala (little leader) as an ode to Dhoni’s thala. It will also trigger sniggers from another section who would see the retirement as an ingratiating gesture. Not that it will surprise Raina; he is used to the criticism and the differing perceptions of him.
Hailed as an outstanding talent by Greg Chappell, the former India head coach, Raina’s Test career fell way short with his weakness against the short ball that left mental dents. His ODI career had its highs and lows but T20s were his spiritual home in cricket, offering him the elusive respect.
In one technical aspect, he is certainly the lodestar in modern-day cricket. It was Raina who perfected the arm-extension after the bat made impact with the ball – especially for the six over covers off length deliveries from pacers. He would lean across, and not just punch but extend his forearm fully while following through. If one cuts out that last-instant post-impact extension, the shot would seem just like a normal traditional punch. The beefy big hitters don’t need it. They can just flex the muscles or have golf-like swings. The compact ones need these extra wings to make the ball fly. One can see that Raina imprint in the likes of KL Rahul.
One of his greatest moments on the cricket field came in the 2011 World Cup quarterfinal when he fearlessly took on the Aussies with a breezy cameo that made the difference between victory and defeat.
From being beaten up with hockey sticks and bullied around in his Lucknow hostel days, Raina has indeed come a long way. As he once said, “God has been kind. I have earned respect with my hard work; no one can take that away from me. Logon ka kya hai, jitna bhi karo, khush nahin honge (How much ever you do, some people won’t be happy).”