Raina's role will be crucial for India

He needs more time at the crease, says Dhoni

Raina's role will be crucial for India

 Just about a year ago, Suresh Raina was staring at uncertainty having been ignored for the Asia Cup held last year in Dhaka after managing just one half-century in 21 one-day internationals, stretching from June 2013, though his place in the T20 squad remained secure.

After a good run in the Indian Premier League and leading a second-string Indian team, in the absence of as many as eight first-choice players, to a series win over Bangladesh in June last, he was on board to England for the five-match ODI series and the left-hander celebrated his return to big league with a 75-ball hundred in the first match at Cardiff. He was the man of the match as India ran up a total of 304 and condemned England to 161 all out.
MS Dhoni may be a better finisher, but Raina is the enforcer India need at the moment, especially in the absence of Yuvraj Singh who permeated a sense of calm assurance as he floated effortlessly from No 4 to 5 depending upon situations.

Raina, not unlike Yuvraj, doesn’t just bring his blazing batting to the table; he is a quicker runner between wickets, he is sharper in the field, can give his captain three-four miserly off-spinning overs if required and he will run as far as mid-on or mid-off from slip to appreciate a good fielding effort by his team-mates. Raina, in a way, is a live wire of the team. But his batting, as much as it delights you, leaves you disappointed at times. It’s not easy being Raina.

Batting in the middle-order in the shorter versions is one of the most difficult jobs for it has an element of uncertainty to it. If you take the Indian team alone, the openers and Virat Kohli – and to an extent Ajinkya Rahane -- have the luxury of knowing where and when exactly they are going to bat.

It may not be as crucial as in Tests, but it still makes a big difference when a batsman is aware about his batting position so that he can be mentally prepared for the challenges of that particular slot. Raina has been shuffled around the batting order throughout his career as per team’s requirements and the 28-year-old has gone about his task uncomplainingly. In this World Cup alone, he came at No 4 against Pakistan and at No 5 against South Africa and the West Indies.

Raina blasted a 56-ball 74 against Pakistan after going out to bat with 20 overs left in India’s innings. That knock was as crucial as Kohli’s hundred in pushing India’s total to an even 300.

“More than the batting slot, the number of overs (bowled) is more important,” Dhoni said about the thinking behind Raina’s batting order. “You specialise your game according to a general pattern. Raina, usually he should be in around the 30-over stage, plus-minus two-three overs. So that he gets to play a few overs before (batting) power play; to see the bounce of the pitch, and then he can accelerate and stay till the end. The more he bats, the more difficult it is to stop him.”

Raina, a nervous wreck by his admission prior to the big game, didn’t go berserk during the fielding restrictions but cut loose when he found his range and rhythm.

The subsequent outings, however, have been poor as he could manage only six and 22 against South Africa and the West Indies. In the first instance only 38 balls were left when he came out to bat while in the second, his was the third highest individual score in India’s stuttering chase of 182. More than the lack of runs it was the manner in which he was dismissed, out pulling a short ball after an airy-fairy stay, that had people questioning his old failing but Dhoni defended him fiercely.       

“There are batsmen from other countries who also get out to the short ball, but only we are labelled as being susceptible against it,” Dhoni thundered.

“He's batting well. In the last World Cup also, many times the lower order didn’t not get an opportunity. When it doesn't get an opportunity, how many runs can it make? If you go and bat in the 40th over, how many runs can you score? If you get out, you'll get out for 20-25 runs and after the third or fourth game, they'll say, 'he's out of form. He's only made 20 runs.' But that's the point where the strike-rate is more important.

If you keep emphasising on the number of runs, then a person will start playing for himself. But we don't want to encourage that habit. Our attempt will be to score as many runs as possible because no score is safe in modern cricket,” he explained.

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