The last that Suresh Raina played a T20 for India, he top scored in a dominant India showing. His fiery 45-ball 63 knocked England off the tenterhooks and gave India a sterling 75-run victory. That was February 2017.
It’s been a year since Raina wielded his willow in a format where his brisk running between the wickets and constant pushing of the ball, often over the ropes and on other occasions, all along the park has meant that T20 is also a fielder’s game. Why he was dropped from the 20-20 format is anyone’s call.
But good thing is, India’s dependable leftie has been called back for T20 duties against South Africa.
His has been a flagging limited- overs career and now, it seems, with the last minute wake up call in South Africa, presumably with the evident failures of Rahul and Dhawan, it has finally been revived. The news comes as a huge relief to Raina and his fans. Die-hard backers who could sense a burning passion to crush the white ball with a familiar whip of the willow would conclude the selection comes on the back of the southpaw’s return to form with a characteristic 49-ball century.
This came in the recently concluded Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 tournament.
Apart from Raina’s good performance in the series, he also looked visibly fitter. Gone are the pudgy although dainty areas of baby bloom. An experienced campaigner seems ready to prove his mettle again.
In December 2017, Raina had declared on social media that he had passed the ‘YO-YO’ test at the National Cricket Academy, Bangalore which has become the pre-requisite to represent India.
But what made Raina an indispensable member of the side?
Was it just his ability to handle pressure during difficult moments? Or was his presence as an all-encompassing athlete- one willing to throw himself behind the ball and dive with restless abandon, often taking blinders with the ease of plucking mangoes from a tree made him pivotal?
We can dispense praise all day.
But it seems, having the resonance of experience- having shared the dressing room with a Tendulkar, Dravid, Dhoni- and for having done consistently well in the shorter format made him a natural fit for the briefest format. Do you remember his unbeaten 34 against Australia in the Quarter Final and that precious 36 against Pakistan in the Semi-Final of the 2011 Cricket World Cup?
These were lasting monuments that beckon to be celebrated that way. But aren’t.
His critics cannot distance themselves from remembering his unbeaten 110 against Zimbabwe at the 2015 World Cup bailed India out of a difficult situation. Raina’s repeated heroics especially in crunch situations made him an exceptional cricketer and continue to do so. Lest he not be considered further.
But thankfully that isn’t the case. At least where T20s stand. Even as his career stats may fail to match up with that of a Kohli or a Rohit Sharma, his ability to score runs and accelerate at the right time has seen him become one of the silent contributors over the last decade.
That Raina should now be a constant feature since the likes of Manish Pandey and Kedar Jadhav haven’t exactly got going is the key for utter resuscitation of his career. Where he does need to get a move on is his ODI career. It would do better with some consistency.
So even though his ouster was attributed to fitness issues, all of that seems to have been taken care of. While his return to the side is a fair testimony to his extensive work on fitness and his craft, it also presents an important signal. That in Kohli’s team, you’ve got to be a standout athlete.
Raina’s entry into the T20 setup once again reinforces the point that a class performer cannot be written off for long. At the same time, India might want to feel lucky that in guys like Dhoni and Raina, experience and credible records are still around.
It is a case of the team needing both as much as the duo are in need of an outlet to prove they’ve still got it.
Now, we’ve got to see how Raina performs in the T20s against the Proteas. Can a good performance there can lead to a 2019 World Cup call-up? You don’t have to be spectacularly clairvoyant to note what Raina would himself want.