A tribute to Suresh Raina: Remembering one of his finest cameos
Song to Sing Along: Under Pressure by Queen, David Bowie https://open.spotify.com/track/2fuCquhmrzHpu5xcA1ci9x?si=v-g9PcncSsObOHAD9xSFxA
Sourav Ganguly planted the roots of a tree that reached its springtime and blossomed beautifully under the care of MS Dhoni. His Team India attained heights that were previously unknown to this cricket-obsessed nation. Many cogs were cardinal in that team’s success and undoubtedly Suresh Raina was one of them, especially in white-ball cricket.
Anyone who saw Raina on the field would vouch for the fact that the man oozed energy. If Dhoni’s India changed the perception of the Blues as a fielding side, then Raina was among those who led this revolution from the front. Besides that, he was a lethal batsman who knew how to finish games and a handy off-spinner who could always chip-in with a few overs when needed.
Raina represented the Indian team in 226 ODIs and smashed 5615 runs including five tons at an average of 35.3. However, to judge him in terms of his average would be villainy. Beyond providing a crucial balance to the starting XI, the role that was ascribed to Raina demanded a lot of sacrifices out of him. Playing in the late-middle order, he often found himself in circumstances that either required him to quickly up the tempo of the game or anchor a sinking a ship.
Talking about his former teammate, Rahul Dravid, a leviathan-like figure in Indian cricket, in a recent video said, “You felt that Suresh did all the difficult things for India - batting lower down the order when his numbers could have been a lot better if he’d batted higher up in the order. It is reflected in the success he’s had for CSK in the IPL (5368 runs from 193 matches - IPL’s second-highest run-getter) where he bats at No. 3 and has an absolutely phenomenal record.”
Buried deep in the list of many difficult things that he performed for his team, there lies his cameo of 34* of 28 balls against the mighty Australians in the quarter-finals of 2011 ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup – a cup which India would go on to lift after a 28-year-long wait.
In a cooker-pressure game at Motera, Ahmedabad, India found themselves in a spot of bother when Dhoni was dismissed by Brett Lee in the 38th over while the score stood at 187 for 5. They were still 74 runs away from victory. Moreover, the Aussies were gaining momentum. Lee was getting in the mood and making the ball reverse. Historically, the three-time defending champions always flourished in such make-or-break situations during the knockout stages.
In such precarious conditions entered Raina, with the knowledge that after him there was only Ravi Ashwin and the tail.
He began his innings with an ice-breaking, authoritative pull shot through the mid-wicket to collect a boundary. However, the initial phase of his cameo was to stay with and support Yuvraj Singh – who had started to counter-attack the Aussie quicks with his classic square and cover drives – in the middle.
As their partnership grew and the pressure began to ease off, Raina decided to put his foot down on the accelerator, overtake the role of the aggressor from Singh, and eventually finish off the opponents. Besides hard running and tickles down the legside, his quick-fire knock also included the quintessential Raina heave over the log-on for a six.
In the end, because of their partnership of 74 from 60 balls where Raina contributed 34 while Singh scored 32, India won the game quite comfortably. Even so, things could have gone askew if either of the two had succumbed to those early fragile, vulnerable moments.
Singh was rightfully adjudged the man of the match for his exploits with the bat and the ball. However, in the loud euphoria and ecstasy that followed the victory, especially in the media, the small but extremely crucial input of Raina was somewhat lost.
While it’s important to celebrate the stellar performers, it’s equally important to acknowledge the lesser but impactful efforts. After all, to win a lengthy and demanding tournament like a world cup, a team needs assistance and performances from not just a few but the whole squad including the bench players. This fact became even more explicit after India’s 2019 ICC World Cup run which ended in a disappointing semi-final defeat to the Kiwis.
Raina’s image as an international player forever remained underrated and underappreciated, particularly in popular media. Due to his role in the team, he often remained on the margins and received far less attention than he was due. However, the same can’t be said for his presence in the Indian team because the trust they put in Raina was telling.
As his journey as an international cricketer comes to an end, there is no doubt that the Indian team was privileged to have Raina – a generational limited-over player who was more than happy to wear the badge on his heart. For all that he did for the Men in Blue, his immaculate services did not go in vain as he reaped his rewards – winning the 2011 ICC World Cup and the 2013 ICC Champions Trophy among other things.
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