Suresh Raina is considered by many as a limited overs superstar who has flattered to deceive in the longest format. But while the world sees how remarkably at home he feels against the white ball – and he does enjoy dominating in the shorter formats – a few know how desperate he is to make his mark in Test cricket. (Also Read: Report: Aus vs Ind, Tri Series-2nd ODI)
It hasn’t been easy for Raina. In the fourth Test against Australia, in Sydney – his first Test since August 2012 – the left-hander bagged a pair. And it broke his heart. He had worked hard for two and a half years to regain his place in the Test side and this wasn’t the comeback he had dreamt of.
But there was hardly any time to sulk, for it was time to focus ahead. It was time for him to don the cap of a senior ODI player as Team India went into the ODI tri-series – a precursor to the 2015 World Cup.
Raina held himself together and switched his attention to the white ball. In the first match of the ODI series, against Australia, Raina scored 51 off 63 balls in a 126-run stand with Rohit Sharma (138). The Australians peppered him with the short ball time and again and the southpaw gleefully pulled them away with commendable control – thrice for four runs and other times for singles.
At the end of the match, which India lost by four wickets, Raina opened up to BCCI.TV about how hard the Sydney debacle hit him and how he coped with it. He also spoke about India’s strengths going into the World Cup and the areas the team needs to work on.
How important was it for you to score these runs today?
It was very important. In Sydney I played my first Test after more than two years and didn’t score a run. That hit me real bad. Everyone in the team tried to cheer me up saying ‘it’s okay, it was hard luck’. But I was really disappointed.
I was just stunned. It felt like a bad dream. I had worked so hard for this opportunity and earned it after so long. It happened to me in England in 2011 – I got a pair in the Oval Test and then did well in the ODIs. So, I had been in that situation before. But this time it was tougher because of how long I had waited for this chance. What helped me get over it was that we drew the Test. Had we lost it, it would have been devastating for me.
I learned a lot in the next two days after that Test, gathered myself and practised really hard with the white ball. It was a new format and the one I have done well in. I put the Test behind me and started to focus on the ODIs. I am glad I could score a few runs right away.
Did you enjoy playing all those pull shots?
People have been talking about the short ball for years now. But I have come a long way. I worked hard with Sachin paaji at the BKC and with (Pravin) Amre sir as well. I believe I have improved a lot in that regards and it shows in the way I have been playing the bouncer for quite a while now.
Do you think the team fell some 20 runs short after the partnership between you and Rohit?
When I went in to bat today I had many overs and all I thought of was to get a good partnership going with Rohit. We did that and the momentum was good but we couldn’t get too many runs after that. Rohit batted really well. When someone scores an outstanding hundred like that and you get a big partnership going, the team gets a platform to build on. We need to learn how to take advantage of that. We will have to win such matches because in the latter stages of the World Cup we will be faced with such situations more often. The boys are getting used to it and I am sure they will improve.
What is the area the team needs to work on to win such matches?
I feel that we can improve our bowling. Today we scored close to 270. In the World Cup we might have to defend 240-odd runs and for that our bowling needs to be much better. We didn’t have Ishant today and that made a lot of difference. His presence will be a big boost in the coming matches. Bhuvi bowled really well today, especially in the death.
As one of the experienced players in the team, who is the youngster you believe can make it big for India in this World Cup?
I believe that Axar will be a key bowler for us in this World Cup. He has a fearless nature and he talks without inhibitions. He doesn’t care what others think about him and is very confident and secure about himself. He has a big heart and all he cares about is playing his cricket with all his heart. Such people have a tendency to surprise everyone.
He bowled a very good spell today as well. He will be very useful in the Australian conditions. He had Shane Watson in a lot of trouble. He is quick through the air and his length keeps on varying. He has a good slider as well.
You are one of the only four members from the class of 2011 in this World Cup squad. Has your role in the leadership enhanced in this squad?
The good thing about this team is that everyone is encouraged to take up leadership responsibilities. We have come up with a system in the team wherein we form small groups and discuss our performances at length. There is a different leader every day. Among batsmen sometimes it is Virat, at times Rohit or me. Ishant, Shami and Bhuvi take turns with the bowling group. The idea behind this system is for each player to express himself. If you don’t know what a person is thinking or how he is feeling, you tend to assume things about him and wonder why you’re not getting the response you’re looking for. If everyone speaks up, there is an open communication within the team and that helps us understand each other better. It is a very good system that Duncan (Fletcher) has brought into practice.
What is that one quality in this team that makes you believe you will do well in the World Cup?
We have played very competitive cricket in the last two months and that has made the boys very tough. They are all very hungry to perform and win. We have done very well in the ICC tournaments in the last four years and that gives the boys a lot of confidence. We are hungry. Every individual in the team is.