You almost felt sorry for him. Probably he didn’t deserve to be there in the first place. He hadn’t done enough to win that spot in the squad, forget in the final XI. Everyone knew it. Probably even he did. But still nobody deserved to be shown up this way. Not even Suresh Raina. This was more than embarrassing. It was humiliating.
That was the SCG. And he was donning whites. It was his return to the whites. His first outing in them for over two years. It lasted all of four deliveries, two of which dismissed him. He got bat to one of them, a thick edge to the keeper off Shane Watson in the first innings. In the second, he batted as if Mitchell Starc was not bowling cricket balls but slinging shot-puts at him. It looked like both he and his feet would have been better off anywhere else but at the centre of the SCG. It was like watching someone on death-row batting in a Test match. Resigned to his fate, fearing the inevitable and helplessly aware that the end wasn’t nigh, it was now.
But again, that was the SCG. That was last week. On Thursday, Raina was at the MCG. He hadn’t been part of the ODI jersey unveiling earlier in the afternoon. It was strange in a way. Raina has always been the one for these occasions. The quintessential hobnobber, the one to lift the spirits of those around him. He brings energy to the side.
But he was there at his effervescent best though when the Indian team, donning their new cyan-coloured training gear, turned up for their fielding drills at the G. He was there bantering with the pacers, and exchanging jokes with skipper MS Dhoni. Raina was back where he belongs. He had looked out of sorts throughout the Test series, even off the field, cocooned in his shell, and not his easy-going self. In Melbourne, he was happy again.
Raina has never been an instrumental feature of the Indian team’s incessant football games, pre and post training sessions. This is not any form of indictment over his skills as a footballer. It’s generally Dhoni and Virat Kohli who end up calling the shots in these games. But here, Raina was very much in the midst of the action, throwing tackles and completing angular passes.
In many ways, there’s always a different feel to the Indian team once the Tests end and the ODIs begin on away tours. It’s as if the transition from the longer format to the shorter ones is welcomed with a lot of glee and maybe some relief too. Mainly, because since 2011, India have collectively as a team been shown up — like Raina at the SCG — in Test series across the world. They’ve been humiliated. And it’s by donning their coloured jerseys that they have tried to restore parity. As if the coloured ones had superhero powers. At least enough power to prevent any hangover from the Tests to seep into their 50-over cricket.
Three years ago, after being handed a 4-0 hammering, they didn’t make it to the tri-series final but did win three matches along the way and looked a whole new side.
You only need to look as far back as the England tour to seek proof of this seamless and uncanny shift between formats. India had been decimated in the last three Tests leading into the ODIs. Their batting had been reduced to shambles. On came the ODIs, and you would have thought it was the Indian team from an alternate universe that had turned up. After having failed to score 200 in their last five innings in the Tests, India bounced back to put up 304 in the second ODI after the opening match was rained off. As it turned out, it was Raina who led the charge that muggy day in Cardiff.
Having walked out to bat with India 110/3 and with their run-rate still in third gear, he smashed 100 off 75 deliveries, with 12 fours and three sixes. It was a knock that showed the world that Indians weren’t good at using just the edge of their bats. They could use the middle of it to settle scores too. That set the tone for the rest of the series, which India won 3-1, returning the favour to the Englishmen. Thus, parity was restored, well at least as far as the Indians were concerned.
This time around, India haven’t been pummelled into submission in the Tests. The 2-0 score-line could easily have been reversed in their favour. They had moments but just not the drive, energy, or at times the nous, to make the most of them.
But nobody epitomises the effortlessness of the Test to ODI transition than their captain. And it’ll be a far more relaxed Dhoni stepping out for the toss on Sunday at the MCG having shed the massive responsibility of captaining in all formats. The next 10 weeks could well turn into the most decisive chapter of his career too. Winning the World Cup was massive. It gave him national hero status. Retaining it will turn him into an eternal icon. For that, India need to get into their ‘happy’ phase again, and start winning games of cricket. They could take the cue from Raina.
Before World Cup, a try-series for morgan
Sydney: With the World Cup at the back of their minds, favourites Australia and England will lock horns in the opening match of the tri-series on Friday, looking to test their squads one last time in the final lead-up to next month’s mega-event. High on confidence after the 2-0 Test series win over India, the Australians will face England at the Sydney Cricket Ground before taking on reigning World Cup title holders India in Melbourne on Sunday.
The series will be specially vital for England as the team would look to settle down under new captain Eoin Morgan. Under Morgan’s leadership, England have piled up runs in their two warm-up games in Canberra, scoring a total of 755. Ian Bell has been in threatening form as he blasted 187 off 145 balls in the 60-run win over the Prime Minister’s XI on Wednesday. But skipper Morgan is in desperate need of runs, having scored just one fifty in his past 19 ODI innings. Meanwhile, pacer James Anderson is doubtful for the opener as he recovers from a knee injury.
Live on Star Sports 1,3 from 8.30 am
Tests to One-dayers, the transitions
In England, 2011: Raina only managed 105, with a highest of 78 runs in 8 innings over four Tests, averaging 13.12. In the subsequent ODIs, he averaged 39.60 in 5 innings and scored at a strike-rate of 113.79
In Australia 2007/08: After averaging only 17.62 in four Tests with no half-century and a strike-rate of 37.50, Dhoni led India to the Commonwealth Bank Series title averaging 69.40 and scoring two match-winning half-centuries.
In Australia 2011/12: Dhoni only averaged 20.40 in three Tests, losing all three, and scoring a solitary half-century. Then in the tri-series he made two fifties and averaged 51.25.
In England 2011: Dhoni did make a couple of fifties and averaged 31.42 during the 4-0 drubbing, but then he made three fifties in five innings, averaging 78.66 and scoring at 97.92.
In New Zealand 2014: He did bring India close to a sensational win in Auckland with an aggressive 68 but Dhoni averaged below 40 in the two Tests. He once again scored three fifties in five innings in the ODIs, averaging 68.
In England 2014: Played in only 2 of the 5 Tests, taking 3 wickets at 33.66. Was instrumental in India winning the ODI series, snaring 7 victims at 24.85 and going at an economy of just 4.44.