'A better thinker now'

'A better thinker now'

maturing: Suresh Raina has learnt a lot from watching Dhoni and Zaheer in action. AP

From a talented youngster to occasional India one-day skipper, Suresh Raina has come a long way. His ability to withstand the rigours of Test cricket continued to be under a cloud but his 82 in the first innings of the Sabina Park Test was a statement that the Uttar Pradesh left-hander is finally ready to take the big step. He spoke at length about his career and other related topics. Excerpts:

How was your second stint as India skipper?   
    
It was a better effort compared to my last stint in Zimbabwe. Last time, I didn’t have a good bowling attack at my disposal. This time, we’d a lot of quality bowlers, and it reflected in our series win. We had bowlers like Praveen, Ashwin, Ishant and Munaf, and they have been bowling well for some time now. This trip was a great experience as a captain. I felt good when I got to know about being made the captain by the selectors. I got messages from seniors like Sachin, Rahul and Anil, wishing us the best of luck.

Can you tell us about your preparation for captaincy?

I had some meetings with Harbhajan. He’s the senior bowler. When it comes to batting Power Play, I had a lot of discussions with him, Praveen and Mishra. There was a good chemistry between us. I have also learned from Dhoni. I know how his mind works, and how he handles each player and respects them. I saw Zaheer handling the bowlers in the World Cup. Zaheer knew exactly what to do in the batting Power Plays, where to position the fielder as you have to change plans after every over. He knew Dilshan plays this shot well or Sangakkara cuts well, so we used to change the field after every over. Watching him was a big learning experience for me.

Was there any added pressure because you were leading the World champion side?

There’s no added pressure on me just because we are the World champions. Everybody wants to do well in all matches, but it’s impossible to do that as failures are bound to come at the international cricket. But it’s important to maintain your intensity at the right level and maintain the right approach that helped you so far.

You couldn’t deliver as a batsman in the ODIs against Windies. What went wrong?

After the first two matches, I went down the order, and didn’t get that much time to bat. If I’d managed to spend a little more time at the crease, it would have been a different story. I have a positive mind, and I am learning from my mistakes. I have become a better person and better thinker now. I share a dressing room with players like Yuvi and Dhoni. Whenever these guys speak, they speak only quality stuff and you can learn a lot from them.

Your Test career didn’t take off as expected after your superb debut. Where did you go wrong?

It’s always special for me to represent my country as a Test player. I got a hundred with Sachin at other end, and it was a special feeling. But I couldn’t give my 100 percent in the series against New Zealand because I got out playing too many shots. In South Africa, there was a lot seam movement and good bounce, and I couldn’t play them correctly. But now things are a lot better and I am improving. If you look at the natural stroke-makers in our batting line-up like Yuvi, Dhoni and Sehwag, they play all strokes at will. I also need to play my natural game, and at the same time I need to be clever. I should realise with which bowler I can take risks, and whom I should leave alone. As long as I remain mentally strong, nobody can stop me from achieving my goals, but at the same time, I have to disciplined, respectful to my seniors and I have to respect the game.

Was countering short-pitched balls the basic problem?

The issue with short-balls is in mind. I have got out to short balls a couple of times in T20s, but I never got out that way in Test cricket. I would like to keep my thinking clear and play straight as much as possible. Test cricket is certainly going to be a challenge. I am just 24 years old, so I have to keep working on my game, and fortunately there are some great players in our dressing room like Sachin, Rahul and Laxman. I will watch them, speak to them and try to pick up as many points as I can.

After training with Gary, I have learned to keep my pull shot down. Earlier, I used to hit it a lot more in the air. Now, I also get behind the ball and play a few taps through the gaps that help me rotate the strike. It’s an important season with series coming along in England and Australia, so it’s a big chance for me.

Tell us about Gary Kirsten’s influence.

He has always urged me to give my 100 percent on the field. It was a great advantage for me that Gary was also a left-hander in his playing days, and it helped me expand my areas. I spent a lot of time with him in Dambulla ahead of my Test debut, and in South Africa, and those were quality meetings. He taught me the importance of understanding the thought process of bowlers, building an innings and believing in my instincts.

How have been your interactions with Fletcher?

He was telling me that you have to feel the fear, and you have to double the intensity in match situations. He’s an interesting person with a lot of different ideas. Once he was suggesting to us why not take the batting Power Play in the 20th over instead of waiting for the 40th or 45th over. We didn’t have a great record in Power Plays in the World Cup, so Fletcher has some ideas to improve our record in the Power Plays.

Finally, give us a flashback about the WC campaign…

I never felt the pressure during the World Cup as everyone was aware of their roles within the team. Gary had created such a positive environment in the team, and we all became mentally very strong before the World Cup. We all knew this was our best chance to win another World Cup, and we proved how tough it is to beat us at home.
Dhoni was amazing in the final and Yuvraj was sensational throughout the tournament as it’s really tough to play match-winning knocks on a regular basis. Zaheer was brilliant with the new and old ball, especially in the batting Power Play.

He came and took the wickets of big batsmen like Mike Hussey in that period, so every player was in the zone. Nobody was even thinking about defeat as we had only victory in our minds.

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