It must have been a ‘cloud nine’ moment for Indian cricket fans when Suresh Raina hit the winning runs in Sydney yesterday to help India whitewash Australia in the three-match Twenty20 International (T20I) series. After losing the first four ODI games, India displayed an unflinching attitude and wherewithal to win the last quartet of fixtures (one ODI and three T20I) on their 2016 tour of Australia, making people back home and those who came in extortionate numbers to witness them at the venues immensely proud.
The highlight of yesterday’s game has got to be the partnership between Raina and Yuvraj Singh, that helped India get over the finishing line. Yes, the foundation was laid by Rohit Sharma (52) and Virat Kohli (50), the duo who enjoyed the just-completed tour of Australia more than anyone else in the squad. But Rohit and Kohli were dismissed at crucial moments in yesterday’s game, breaking India’s rhythm and bringing Australia back into the game.
Mind you, India needed 51 to win off the last five overs, a dicey equation given that Raina and Yuvraj were in the middle, with the latter having not got to bat in the series prior to yesterday. Yuvraj’s 15 (12) was an indispensable contribution too, in the context of the game, but we shall rave about his vintage hitting in the last over on another day.
We need to spare a thought for Raina, who was dropped from India’s ODI squad for the tour of Australia and therefore under immense pressure to perform. The UP batsman must also have been aware of the solid batting performances from Ajinkya Rahane (two half-centuries) and Manish Pandey (a match-winning hundred) during the ODI series.
Yesterday, he was given a reprieve by Australia’s stand-in wicketkeeper, Cameron Bancroft, who missed a stumping chance on the second ball Raina faced. But, the composure and temerity he exuded thereafter, to engineer India’s chase of 198 was a commendable effort. I can tell you that it would not have been easy. Here was a man who has oft been susceptible to the short-pitch delivery, the delivery which leaves the left-hander and in the past thrown away his wicket by trying to play lofted shots. But to stay put in the middle of a mammoth chase, with your place in the ODI side up in the air, and go onto hit the winning runs, was an extraordinary effort from Raina, who, I must tell you, has played a handful of knocks of yesterday’s kind during his 11-year-long international career, especially in white ball cricket.
Brace yourself for the unveiling of a quintet of Raina’s match-winning innings over the years.
1) India v England 2006 ODI Series, Faridabad ODI
The then 19-year-old Raina played a match-winning knock of 81* (89) to steer India to a four-wicket victory in Faridabad, against the visiting England. This was also Raina’s first-ever ODI fifty, which saved India of the embarrassment. Chasing 227 for victory, India were reeling at 4-80 in the 21st over of their innings.
In walked Raina to bat for the eighth time in his ODI career. He did not have the range of shots then as he exhibited yesterday, but his trademark shot of today, the across-the-line hoick over mid-wicket and long-on, is the same as it was on that day in March, 2006. In his knock of 81*, a whopping 34 runs came in front of square on the leg-side.
India lost their fifth wicket – of Yuvraj – soon after Raina walked in, with the score on 92. With a further 135 runs to win, Raina forged a 118-run stand with MS Dhoni for the sixth wicket, to take India closer to victory. He then combined with Irfan Pathan for the seventh wicket to see India over the line. His innings of 81* (89) was punctuated with eight fours and a six, and he got those runs at 91 runs/100 balls.
2) India v South Africa ICC World Twenty20 2010, Group Match
Raina became the first Indian to score a T20I century with his knock of 101 against South Africa in the 2010 ICC World Twenty20 played in the Caribbean. It was a hard-fought hundred on a difficult pitch and against a quality South African bowling attack comprising of Dale Steyn, the Morkel brothers, Jacques Kallis and Rory Kleinveldt.
Raina, just as he has done for the Chennai Super Kings (CSK) in the Indian Premier League (IPL), batted at No.3 for India that day. He came in to bat at the fall of Murali Vijay in the very first over. The UP southpaw held the Indian innings together, and played a starring role in the Men in Blue posting a huge total of 5-186. Raina got his runs at a staggering 168 runs/100 balls. Raina’s 101 was miles ahead of the second top-scorer (Yuvraj, with 37) for the inaugural World T20 champions, indicating to you the significance of his knock.
India went onto win the game, but by only 14 runs. Raina, deservedly, was awarded the man-of-the-match for his T20 batting masterclass.
3) India v England 2011 ODI series, Mumbai ODI
By now, Raina had become a regular member of the Indian ODI side. After India won the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011, Yuvraj, one of the mainstays in the Indian middle order, had been stricken by cancer and therefore Raina had to take on that responsibility.
Against the Poms at the Wankhede Stadium in 2011, he played an aggressive knock of 80 while India tried to overhaul England’s total. The specialty about this innings was the way Raina counterattacked the English seamers on a typical Wankhede wicket.
Chasing 221 for victory in the fourth ODI of the series, the hosts lost their top three for just 46 runs. Interestingly, India also took 14 overs to get to that score, thereby allowing the required run-rate to nudge above five runs-per-over. Having joined Kohli in the middle and as the senior partner then, Raina took on the aggressor’s role, tried to up the innings run-rate and subsequently transfer the pressure onto the visitors, who tried to avoid their fourth straight defeat in a five-match series.
It was Raina’s 62-ball 80 that got India to within sight of an expected win. When Raina was dismissed, India needed 44 more runs for victory. But the UP batsman had done his job, during his 131-run fourth-wicket stand with Kohli, from just 113 balls.
The noteworthy aspect of this knock was the way Raina got India out of trouble, by playing an aggressive innings.
4) Srilanka v India 2012 ODI Series, Third ODI at R Premadasa Stadium
On this occasion, Raina once again proved his wherewithal to win games for his team while chasing. The Srilankan team of four years ago was chock-a-block with experienced veterans. They were difficult to beat on their own turf, though the Dhoni-led India were far too frequently involved in ODI and T20I tussles with the Lankans then and had the nous of beating them.
Srilanka had posted a formidable 5-286 in the third and crucial game of the series. They did not have too many wicket-taking bowlers, though, and India would have fancied their chances of chasing 287 down, during the mid-innings break.
They did not get off to a good start, but Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag’s opening partner then, held one end up and played with a great deal of authority. He scored a crucial century (102) while forging substantial partnerships with Kohli and Dhoni, for the second (105) and third wicket (67) respectively. When Dhoni was dismissed, India still had another 107 runs to get for victory. Crucially, they lost two more wickets, including the important one of Gambhir, in quick succession to brighten Srilanka’s chances of stealing the game.
At one stage, India were reduced to 5-196, needing 92 more runs to win the game. Raina only had I Pathan and the bowlers for company. But the CSK batsman exuded tremendous composure and resilience to first stop the flow of wickets, and then go after the bowling. His natural game of playing aggressively did not change, though. India needed close to eight runs-per-over in the final 12 of the game, so Raina, along with I Pathan, needed to keep the scoreboard ticking over.
And they managed it. Not by hitting boundaries, mind you, but by rotating the strike and running hard between the wickets. Of Raina’s 65 runs, only 30 were scored through boundaries. And his innings comprised of 18 singles, seven twos and a three. This innings of Raina, again in a winning cause for India, showed his many facets as a middle-order batsman. Him guiding I Pathan through the innings and helping India win the game was indeed the highlight.
5) India v Zimbabwe ICC Cricket World Cup 2015
This was not exactly a pressure situation, Raina produced a tremendous innings nonetheless. His 110* (104) helped India remain unbeaten throughout the group phase of last year’s World Cup.
The then defending champions were in serious trouble in Auckland, where they were set a target of 288 for victory by Zimbabwe. Brendan Taylor played a gem of a knock (a 110-ball 138), in what was his last game for the country, to help his side notch up such a total on a good pitch.
India started off poorly and lost their openers, R Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan, inside the first seven overs. They lost Rahane soon after with the score on 71, which was when Raina walked to the middle and joined Kohli. The Delhi dasher was not to bring his chasing heroics to the fore on this occasion, as he was bowled by the part-time bowler in Sikandar Raza.
With India’s score at 4-92, Dhoni joined Raina to do the rescue job and save India of the embarrassment. They were the last proper batsmen. But this duo did not allow such elements to faze them.
Raina started off slowly, but then made up the difference between balls and runs once he got into his groove. He was the aggressor in the 196-run partnership with Dhoni, and one who got the boundaries at crucial times. Raina was given a reprieve at a time when he continued to take risks and go for the big shots, by Hamilton Masakadza, but he harnessed it and went onto win India the game. By dovetailing with Dhoni, of course.
Raina’s 110* was punctuated with nine fours and four sixes, while he scored almost half his runs (50) in front of square on the on-side, his most productive scoring area.
The aforementioned match-winning knocks of Suresh Raina are just a select few of the many he has played for India till date. He is just an underrated cricketer who has been, and continues to be, a reliable match-winner for India. Suresh Raina has his share of weaknesses, but they do not always hamper his ability to win games for India, especially in ODIs and T20Is.