In science & technology, a standard of measurement possessing sufficient identifiable characteristics common to the individual units of a population to facilitate economical and efficient comparison of attributes for units selected from a sample is known as benchmark. Suresh Raina is my benchmark. He is a cricketer in a supporting role.
I had, maybe, 4 to 5 different favourite cricket players from the period between 2003 to 2015, Suresh Raina was none of them. I hated many cricketers in between for various reasons, Suresh Raina was none of them. For me, and many who could agree with me, he sneaked passed his own career all this time. Suresh Raina was one cricketer who was related with all others through his career. Some were better than him, many were worse than him. He was the benchmark.
From the earliest I can remember, he was not a ‘go to man’ for his U19 team, when Shikhar Dhawan, Robin Uthappa, Dinesh Karthik, Rudra Pratap Singh & even Ambati Rayudu were making more headlines than him. He was there in 2004 in that U19 World Cup final. He was doing his job. A classy left handed middle order batsman capable of keeping the flow of runs intact from his end. He was an accumulater. A calm customer. If current version of Suresh Raina can be stated as Sylvester Stallone than he was Jay Baruchel back then. Still effective. Doing his job. Sneaking pass his innings match after match in a supporting role. (In Pic: Suresh Raina during U19 World Cup)
It was pre-t20 era, importantly pre-IPL era. He was a grace of a batsman. He continued his mini world cup heroics, not heroics, supporting role in Ranji Cricket. Yuvraj Singh & Mohammad Kaif were still the unfulfilled promises along with all time greats still bolstering the main roster. Believe me, VVS Laxman not getting a regular place in Indian ODI setup was one of the reasons I am short-tempered today. Dinesh Karthik & MS Dhoni already had some outing for India in Tests & ODI matches. Raina sneaked passed in, out of nowhere in Indian team for that tour/series against Pakistan. Suresh Raina formed that famous 3-Men-Band fielding porn with Yuvraj Singh & Mohammad Kaif for Indian viewers. Something very rare and very exciting given the Indian standards. He was still the 3rd known man in that trio. He even wasn’t the best fielder in the team. He was there, in the mix. Supporting his team-mates.
He played few matches in 2005 in his first stint with India. Let me remind you, his batting wasn’t brutal as we all see nowadays. He hardly used to get fours, forget sixes. Some memories from his first tour to Pakistan is still vivid in my memories when he was so happy to manage few pull shots to boundary. Bouncing just inside the ropes. He impressed for his technique, fielding & innocence. He became a prospect too in a team struggling to fit in VVS Laxman.
Meanwhile, Yuvraj got matured, MS Dhoni caught the imagination of world.
ICC World Cup 2007 arrived. Suresh Raina was in thick of things. He missed the trip to West Indies. India went for safe landing, selecting all the experienced stalwarts. Robin Uthappa was there for opening & Dinesh Karthik as back up keeper. Suresh Raina wasn’t. He was surplus to requirements. He batting wasn’t swashbuckling. He wasn’t an all-rounder. He was not needed. No wonder, the matches & innings he played has whopping difference in his stats. He was mostly used as a Super-Sub when ICC decided to start messing up ODI cricket. He mostly used to field for India subbing a bowler or less capable veteran. He was a player in a substitute role, supporting role. India got knocked out of world cup in Group Stage.
Greg Chappell, back then India’s coach, was sacked. His statements had support for Suresh Raina ahead of unfit Yuvraj for the 2007 World Cup.
Backlash followed. Seniors were started to be dropped, youngsters preferred. India rode on Yuvraj Singh & MS Dhoni to achieve so many feats in cricket. Going with plenty of bilateral series, ICC WT20 in 2007 was their best achievement. This was the time when Suresh Raina might find himself very unlucky. He missed the most, possible, youngest squad India ever fielded for a long long time. India won it. Against all odds. Suresh Raina saw it from back home. Again, his batting was not aggressive yet for Team India’s likening par set by MSD & UV. One of the few reasons he was not considered for the wham-bam-thankyou-mam cricket.
Then in 2008, he along with many new youngsters were blooded in ODI setup for CB Series in Australia. That was the biggest ODI squad I ever saw. With 17 members, Suresh Raina didn’t get a single game in the tour. The longest ODI tournament after World Cup. 17 men squad. Suresh Raina didn’t get a single game. But India celebrated. Suresh Raina carried the awkwardly shaped CB Series trophy all around in the stadium. Dhoni, the captain, realized Suresh Raina’s patience, and acknowledged him publicly. Raina already got a back up by skipper without playing a single match under him.
He was supportive everywhere. In field, off the field. Player for teams, player for captains.
Suresh Raina playing for Chennai Super Kings changed his fortunes.
Then Indian Premier League happened. Suresh Raina was bought by Chennai Super Kings. Rest is history. After 7 years, he still plays for them. He already is an IPL legend. His fans, his novice fans have no problems comparing him as Don Bradman of IPL. He improved his cricket, he got consistent, to be honest, if any player who has been benefited most in history of IPL cricket, it has to be Suresh Raina. No complains there, he deserve it.
He was re-booted. Like, Shah Rukh Khan in Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, it was Suresh Raina’s re-introduction to International cricket. MSD was his Aaditya Chopra.
It was new Suresh Raina, he learned the art of clearing the ropes, cleanly. He started to bowl his off-breaks. Effectively, his bowling was first introduced by MSD in Sri Lanka in same year. When Raina & MS Dhoni combined to break the code: Ajantha Mendis. Code who created havoc against Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman & Co in Tests. For, the first time in his career, Suresh Raina was no more a supporting role, he lead his IPL team to glory so many times & efficiently. This was his time in IPL. He was no more sneak passing in IPL. He granted his authority in IPL. He was player in a lead role.
S Raina scored century in his Test match debut
Suresh Raina is an enigma. He is the only person to score centuries in all three formats of the game for India. 4 if you count IPL too. He is the glorified debutant who scored century in his Test debut against Sri Lanka. He has already skipped the national side. Then, sometimes, he is the same player who has no clue how to play short ball. Not that he is the only one with that problem. Even, Michael Clarke struggles against the short ball. But in Suresh Raina’s case, he expects every ball to be short, he leans, moves far too much towards offside. Unlike, Michael Clarke who stands up, at his stance, all ready, for next ball after getting hit, if not play, by a short ball each time before. I am no expert but looks like more of a mental thing than technical.
Every batsmen in the world has problem with a short ball if disguised properly. You got to bowl that right. It’s just not only Suresh Raina’s fault. He don’t need to look further for inspiration than Saurav Ganguly.
Suresh Raina is still finding his feet in Test Cricket. By the looks of it, he may never find one. But he already is a ODI superstar, moving rapidly in the foot prints of Yuvraj Singh. His last ODI game against Pakistan in Adelaide, he again was at his best.
A small testimonial of his career in one match. The pitch where Virat Kohli find it difficult to score runs. Raina scored at will. He outpaced every other innings in that game, even Virat Kohli, but his innings wasn’t important. Virat got the man of the match, and deservedly so. Raina took Pakistan out of the contest but was set up by Virat Kohli & Shikhar Dhawan.
Suresh Raina with Rohit Sharma
And similarly, when he scored that century against Zimbabwe. He is no Virat Kohli, no Ajinkya Rahane for his team but he bailed out India scoring a century in a dead rubber match given the context. He lead his team when no one did, again with MS Dhoni being alongside him. Raina knows to dance when there is chance. He knows to support them. He knows to be a Shashi Kapoor to every Amitabh Bachhan movies, Jonah Hill to any major Oscar nominated movie.
Suresh Raina’s struggle in ODI is no hidden fact. He is an ideal no.3 for T20s, like when he got that century against South Africa in West Indies, but he is not even the no.4 in ODIs. Comparing Virat Kohli will be criminal, but what Raina did was sneak pass his match winning innings match after match. Like, he did in 2011 World Cup, something Yusuf Pathan was meant too. He was successful, he bailed out India in slog overs in quarter & semi final. Yuvraj Singh was man of the series, but Raina did his bit. He was, still, the same old sneak passer in ODI cricket for India. He never got the main role. He remained the actor in supporting role for every feat India or any other player achieved.
Suresh Raina’s importance may not seen from outset, but he is one dasher who can win games on his own, but more of his innings has been setting up the total from good to great. He has mostly struggled to take his team to a respectable total after a poor start. But he has flourished when he has been provided with a launchpad.
By now, he is legend on his own rights. Let the IPL continue, and my kid 10 years from now will argue with me if Suresh Raina was the better player than Kumar Sangakkara. In that case, I am not going to be a good father.
He has been the James Franco to all the Seth Rogens he had all his career so far. Be it Rahul Dravid or MSD or….MSD.
A man who made the difference by stretching the gap. He never had daddy hundreds. He never made the headlines apart from his Yellow Colors. The best thing about him is not his cricket, but the humble person he is, the way he celebrates his centuries like a bowler raising one hand in air and running. He even celebrates his friends centuries first before the centurion himself does.
He has never made the controversies. He has never given any the big interview yet. He walks in, does his job, loves it, celebrates it, gets back to his home. From, 2004 U19 World Cup to 2015 ICC World Cup, he has been there, I have been noticing him, loving him, hating him, and probably after the longest article I ever wrote in cricket, he is still not my favourite player. I like James Taylor more, even Ajinkya Rahane in Indian team.
I will want him to feature in any limited overs team in the world. But that’s it. And that too if he bats below 5. He, so far, has been the cricketer in a supporting role all his life. Nevertheless, the ultimate contributor. With likes of players/batsmen in line for India, he may have to be that rest of it too. But he will still be there being noticed. Sneaking his match winning innings. Playing his supporting roles.