Lateral movement and bounce are said to be Suresh Raina’s bugbear. The lack of adaptability negatively contributed to his chequered Test career. And when his slide in the white-ball cricket began, during the 2013 home ODI series against Australia, Mitchell Johnson had played a big part in softening up the southpaw. Raina hasn’t featured in 50-over internationals for close to two-and-a-half years now. And he had to wait more than a year before returning to the T20 fold; for this three-match T20 series.
But Raina has returned with a lot of positive intent. He timed the ball really well in the first match at Johannesburg. At Cape Town, he played a lovely little cameo after Rohit Sharma’s early dismissal. In the final T20 against South Africa, Rohit got out cheaply – yet again leg before off Junior Dala – and Raina chipped in with a 43 off 27 balls.
Being a limited-overs cricket veteran, Raina had added responsibility for this game. A stiff back ruled out Virat Kohli and given the India captain’s recent form, it was a serious blow. Kohli’s stand-in, Rohit, finished a pretty ordinary series with the bat, scoring just 11 runs in the final T20I. Dhawan struggled with his timing upfront. And the onus fell upon Raina to make the most of the first six overs. JP Duminy had won the toss and from India’s perspective a good Powerplay was needed to cancel the advantage. India scored 57 runs in Powerplay for the loss of Rohit’s wicket. Raina was batting on 32 of 17 deliveries. On a pitch that offered bounce and also a little bit of early movement, his footwork was excellent.
At the pre-match press conference on Friday, Raina spoke about the importance of taking the attack to the opposition in the first six overs. “It’s very important to play well in the first six overs. When you look to target the first six overs in T20s, you have to play your shots,” he had said.
Dala had his tail up after making it three on the spin against Rohit. But the young fast bowler gave Raina a friendly welcome with a leg side half-volley, which was duly dispatched over the deep square leg fence. Duminy came on to bowl his part-time off-spin in the third over of the match. Two left-handers in the middle could be the reason. Spin, however, has always been bread and butter to Raina and he unleashed a wonderful back foot cover drive.
The batsman’s treatment to Andile Phehlukwayo bordered on the contemptuous. The seamer had kept the mid-off back and bowled full outside off. Raina danced down the track and drove it straight of mid-off for a four. A glorious cover drive followed next ball. His batting during that phase felt like a throwback to the past, when Raina used to be a on a par with Kohli in the shorter formats.
Tabraiz Shamsi, however, managed to put the brakes on scoring with his left-arm chinaman. And he eventually dismissed Raina, with Farhaan Behardien taking a very good catch in the deep. He connected it well, but Raina chose placement over power, giving Behardien the opportunity to cover the ground and grab the ball right in front of the sight screen.
But flattered to deceive would be a negative way to describe Raina’s knock today. Rather, his batting offered a lot of positivity with an eye to the future. It gave enough hint about gradually getting back into the groove.
Dhawan scored 47 off 40 balls. But it was one of those days when the left-hander didn’t look on top of his game. He was dropped twice, both times by Shamsi. His first four came after 28 balls. And in the end, he was run-out, chancing a second.
Towards the end, Dinesh Karthik’s – Kohli’s replacement – six-ball 13 took India to 172/7. Axar Patel, too, finally got a game, coming in for Yuzvendra Chahal.
Brief scores: India 172/7 in 20 overs (Shikhar Dhawan 47 off 40, Suresh Raina 43 off 27; Junior Dala 3/35)