Perfect beginning

Suresh Raina has impressed all with a hundred, at once composed and stylish, in his maiden Test

Perfect beginning

Suresh Raina answered his critics with a shining hundred against  Sri Lanka. Reuters

People with better first-class records have had to wait longer, competing as they were with proven performers at the highest level. That was of little consolation to the Uttar Pradesh left-hander, who always believed – even if several others didn’t – that he had what it took to succeed in the Test format, too.

Sometimes, on huge slices of luck does the future hinge. Raina’s chance came courtesy an illness to Yuvraj Singh. One man’s misfortune became the other’s good fortune as Raina grabbed his opportunity gratefully, with a memorable century on Test debut against Sri Lanka at the SSC grounds. Tempting as it might be to run that knock down as one brought up on the flattest of tracks, it must be remembered that it came under very testing personal and team circumstances. Failure would not just have condemned Raina to more time in the wilderness, it is quite possible that India might have found it quite difficult to come away unscathed from the second Test. It was in the character and the sense of belonging at the highest level he showed that Raina earned top marks. His place in the history books as only the 12th Indian to make a Test ton on debut was no more than an icing on the cake.

Raina is today in an elite league of just four men in the world to have made centuries in Tests, one-day internationals and in international Twenty20 cricket. Chris Gayle, Brendon McCullum and Mahela Jayawardene all reached that rare hat-trick with T20 tons; Raina is unique in the sense that he is the only one of the quartet to complete the whole set with a Test hundred, but that’s only because he came to Test cricket late. At 23! That waiting period, however, didn’t leave Raina frustrated. “The team had such a strong middle-order that I had no complaints biding my time,” the stylish left-hander said. “Even someone of the class of Yuvraj had to wait for so long to become a regular member of the Test side, he got in permanently only after Sourav (Ganguly) retired. So I understood that I had to wait for my chance.”

Raina’s ability to play the short ball had been questioned, given the problems he and the rest of the team had encountered at the World T20 in England last year. “Too much was made of what happened in just one or two matches,” he countered. “I have always worked on my game, and I will keep improving.” After his heroics at the SSC grounds, it will be extremely difficult for the team management to leave him out of the eleven for the third Test. The Australian line of thinking has been to return to the original choice the moment he is available, but with Yuvraj himself in the wars for a while now and Raina showing all-round adaptability at the highest level, he can fancy another shot at the Sri Lankan bowling at the P Sara Oval.

“He has been a real positive cricketer,” skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni gushed. “Not just while batting, but even while bowling and fielding, he was active throughout. That reflects in your batting. When you are that aggressive, your mindset is good. The only thing that’s on your mind is to make runs and come good for the team. His intensity when he was playing every ball was high. Even after completing his hundred, he didn’t get complacent. Hopefully, touchwood, he continues to do well for our side.” For Raina, it was a dream-come-true to associate himself in a record stand with Sachin Tendulkar. “He has got tremendous confidence,” the master said of the newest entrant to the Test club. “I just allowed him to play his game. He has the ability to play big shots, and he was cleverly selecting them, so I didn’t interfere much. Whenever I felt that a particular adjustment was required, I told him, but generally, I just let him be.”

Raina will now have to cope with the pressure of expectations that take on a whole new dimension in India. To be the first centurion on Test debut for India since Virender Sehwag in 2001 is a huge cross to bear, though the knowledgeable believe that his composed, attractive 120 was no mere flash in the pan and that his experience of international cricket – he did play a record 98 ODIs before his Test debut – will stand him in excellent stead.

“There seemed an inevitability about Suresh’s individual success – both making his Test debut for India and now his debut Test century,”his Chennai Super Kings team-mate Matthew Hayden told Deccan Herald. “The star of Suresh Raina is a bright one, and one that is not going to fade quickly. It is one that is fuelled by all of his champion qualities including his love of family, his commitment and dedication, and his respect for the game and his fellow team-mates.” High praise from one of the legends of the game. Raina’s star is indeed a bright one, but how long it keeps shining is entirely in his own hands. And his scything willow.

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