Raina faces a crucial test to secure No 4

Raina faces a crucial test to secure No 4

Suresh Raina appeared rather twitchy. He shuffled between nets, constantly chatting with coach Duncan Fletcher and skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni during India’s net session under a scorching afternoon sun at the VCA stadium on Monday.

Then there were a few words with R Ashwin, Ishant Sharma and Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who were bowling at the nets. Raina resembled a student preparing for his annual exam, and it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that the next few months will offer him a stern test of his skills and temperament. Those days may even determine the course of his career.

Batting predominantly at number five or six for the last few years, Raina got a promotion to number four in the on-going series against Australia, and Dhoni has categorically stated that the Uttar Pradesh left-hander would be given an extended run at that slot.

The intention behind that move, as Dhoni explained, was to identify a permanent figure at number four with the 2015 World Cup in mind.    
     
"At all the other slots, we have players and we even have replacements. But apart from Yuvraj (Singh), I don't see anybody who has batted 50 ODIs at No 4. That can be a concern and we will have to rectify that from this point. No point going too late and then saying we don't have time to do anything,” Dhoni had said.

Yuvraj Singh, the first choice for number four, has returned to the fold but given that the southpaw is still charting his way at the highest level after his battle with cancer, that too might have prompted Dhoni to look for an alternative option at that place.
It certainly looks an honorable attempt, giving priority to team’s needs. But can Raina soak in the challenges and pressures of batting at number four? The on-going series against Australia offered a sneak peek into that.

The third ODI at Mohali showcased once again that unresolved weakness of Raina – playing short-pitched bowling. This time Mitchell Johnson exploited that chink with ruthless efficiency.

Here, Raina will have to find answers to two questions – technical as well as temperamental – to vindicate the management’s decision to push him up in the batting order.

Raina tackles the short-pitched ball in a rather peculiar way. He never really gets behind the ball while playing the pull, and instead he tries to swat it away in front of his face making it tough for him to keep the ball down.

That shot can carry the ball miles away when it clicks but there’s an obvious danger quotient in it. Nullifying the short-balls is an important part of batting at number four because batsman may have to come to the middle when the bowlers are high on energy, and eager to have a go at batsman.

It assumes more significance because India will be touring South Africa, New Zealand, England and Australia in the coming months where pacers will have a bigger say in matches. Here, perhaps, Raina can follow the footsteps of Steve Waugh and Virender Sehwag, two men who started with inadequate technique against short-pitched ball. But they overcame it with granite will, never hesitant to look ugly.

The first one-dayer at Pune, revealed the other area that Raina needs to concentrate – the art of innings construction. He had made a good beginning to reach 39, and one would have expected him to convert that into something more substantial with plenty of overs left in the match. But a sudden bout of rashness saw him trying to send James Faulkner out of the ground, offering an easy chance to Xavier Doherty in the deep. When the last time Raina got a chance to bat higher up the order consistently (in the Asia Cup at Pakitstan in 2008, and in the same year against Sri Lanka at Dambulla and England at home), he made 476 runs from 13 matches at a shade over 39 with a hundred and four fifties at a strike rate of just above 88.

In the past, Raina has expressed his desire to go up the order. Now, he has been given another chance to realise his dream and it’s up to Raina to produce the results.

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