Raina makes Test debut memorable with a century

Left-hander is 12th Indian to score a ton on maiden appearance

Talk about grabbing your chances!

Almost to the day since he made his international debut five years  back, Suresh Raina announced the completion of his internship at the highest level with a brilliant hundred on Test debut at the SSC grounds on Thursday.

The Uttar Pradesh left-hander had made his one-day debut as a precocious 18-year-old in Dambulla on July 30, 2005. It took him 98 one-day internationals and 18 T20 games before breaking through into the Test eleven, courtesy Yuvraj Singh’s illness, but he hardly took any time to show that he was most comfortable in the longer version at the highest level.

The 23-year-old from Muradnagar in Ghaziabad became only the 12th Indian, and the fourth left-hander, to make a century on Test debut. That it came under pressure, in a game for which he had had very little time to prepare, made it doubly special, as his partner in a record fifth-wicket stand for India in Sri Lanka, Sachin Tendulkar, pointed out.

“I told him that he might make many more centuries, that he might go on to bigger things, but nothing can top a century on Test debut,” Tendulkar said. “It was a special effort from him, and I just told him to enjoy the moment because he had deserved it, he had earned it.”

Buttonholed as a limited-overs player, Raina today stands as the only Indian to have made centuries in all three formats at the international level. He also holds the dubious distinction of having played a world record 98 one-day internationals before his Test debut, but over 294 minutes and 228 deliveries, he showed that he deserved his place now, for sure, if not earlier.

“I was nervous when I came in to bat but Sachin said 'Just enjoy yourself, this moment will never come. You are playing your first Test match, just enjoy it’," Raina revealed. “It was my dream to bat with Sachin, and today it came true. He said 'You are winning matches for the side in one-dayers, do well in Tests too'."

Enjoy himself Raina most certainly did. He had been outstanding in the field, never flagging during Sri Lanka’s monumental ten and a half-hour batting stint. When he came out to bat on Wednesday, India were in some strife at 241 for four, needing a further 202 runs to avoid the follow on.

By the time he departed, a further 256 had been amassed in Tendulkar’s company, the match headed nowhere but towards a tame draw. “He was selective in his choice of strokes. He defended very well, picked the right balls to strike, he showed great character,” Tendulkar gushed. “It was truly a brilliant effort.”

The last Indian to make a century on debut was Virender Sehwag, in Bloemfontein in November 2001 when he and Tendulkar put on 220, also for the fifth wicket, against South Africa. Is there a message in it somewhere?!

Raina’s long apprenticeship in first-class cricket and limited-overs internationals, Tendulkar agreed, was perhaps the way to go when it came to blooding batsmen in Tests. “It can be an advantage,” the master said. “Raina has already played the Sri Lankan attack several times, he has been to Sri Lanka on at least three tours. I am sure he benefited from it.”

Yuvraj will now be looking over his shoulder. Despite ten years at the highest level, he has yet to knuckle down a permanent Test spot. Whether he will figure in the third Test now is debatable, but this Raina beauty will undoubtedly shake him out of his slumber.

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