Need to apply common sense

Suresh Raina has some way to go before mastering the nuances of Test cricket. AFP

The 23-year-old left-hander made a crucial century on debut at the SSC grounds in Colombo in July to help India salvage a draw, then conjured a vital attacking fourth-innings 41 not out under a little bit of pressure in the next Test as India chased down a competitive total at the P Sara Oval for a series-levelling victory.

His next innings was a chancy, entertaining, high-risk 86 against Australia in Mohali last month, after which the wheels have somewhat fallen off, though 364 runs in six Tests at 45.50 are hardly numbers to be scoffed at.

Raina’s last five innings have yielded only 55, in itself only a minor point of concern but not when compared to the manner of his dismissals.

Twice, he has been caught behind the stumps sitting on the back foot anticipating short deliveries; twice more, he has been caught hitting out, his mind’s eye blurring the thin line between being aggressive and foolhardy.

It’s one thing carrying a positive mindset to the middle, it’s quite another knowing which balls to attack, and in what situations. Sunday provided the perfect example that Raina has some way to go before mastering the nuances of Test cricket.

India still trailed New Zealand by 39, afternoon tea was a quarter of an hour away, and Daniel Vettori was bowling with as much generosity as a pauper handing out Christmas gifts. Common sense dictated that you bat out that little period, come back after the interval, re-assess your options and then take charge.

Common sense, however, isn’t quite as common as the term suggests. Not oblivious to Raina’s penchant for taking the aerial route, Vettori had two men patrolling the leg-side boundary. He tossed one up and got the ball to dip and turn; beaten in the flight, a charging Raina chose to go ahead with the stroke, only to put the ball up for deep backward square to pouch a regulation offering.

Just how much the young guns learn, watching from the changing room, from established virtuosos like Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman is open to question. Laxman is the more fluent stroke-maker of the two, but in deference to the situation on Sunday, he took a leaf out of the Dravid book, embracing circumspection in the immediacy of Sachin Tendulkar’s departure and not opening out until he was in complete control.

When he did, he did so with a minimum of risk. Run-making isn’t always about hitting in the air and clearing the ropes. Dravid and Laxman have illustrated that over the years, just as they have shown that Test cricket makes different demands at different times, and that one must adapt and improvise according to those demands.

Raina is young, with a long, bright future ahead of him, not to mention his captain’s complete confidence. He has the talent and the hunger, for sure. Tactical nous isn’t his biggest strength yet; he would do well to make the most of the privilege of sharing a dressing room with the Tendulkars, the Dravids and the Laxmans, who have shown that cricket is less about ego and more about understanding one’s limitations. And playing within them.

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