Former India coach talks about the cricketer he backed way back in 2006
When Suresh Raina walked out to play his first T20 international innings against New Zealand, he was expected to stay till the end and help India post a challenging total. He did that with a classy, unbeaten 43-ball 61 as India put up 162 for eight in 20 overs, but it was not enough as New Zealand romped home with seven wickets and seven balls to spare at Christchurch.
Tomorrow, at the Vidarbha Cricket Association Stadium at Jamtha in India's ICC World T20 opener, Raina could walk out with a similar task on hand against New Zealand, this time not as a rookie T20 player, but a senior pro, one that gets forgotten a bit at times in the galaxy of batting stars.
Greg Chappell, India's coach when Raina started out in international cricket in 2005, has always been his supporter and was most disappointed to see Raina left out of India's 2007 World Cup squad which he coached.
Chappell spoke to mid-day recently about Raina's rise and what this 29-year-old batsman brings to the table.
Has Suresh Raina progressed like you expected him to when you saw him as a young player in 2005-06?
When I first saw him in a camp at Bangalore more than 10 years ago, Suresh was one of the most talented youngsters that I had ever seen. He was a wonderful ball-striker, brilliant fielder and better than a part-time off spinner.
Would you call Raina a complete one-day batsman, or is he close to being one?
I am not sure what complete means, but if it means that one is clever, adaptable and powerful, then he is as close as one can get to being complete.
Any particular aspect of his batting you would like to see an improvement in?
Suresh is always trying to improve his batting. One can never stay still or the game will move past one, so it is important to keep trying to improve one's game.
What according to you, has Raina brought to the table in India's one-day set up?
He is a clever batsman with a good cricket brain. He is worth two fieldsmen in the field and his bowling is very handy which allows the selectors some flexibility in getting the optimal balance for the conditions.
With the World T20 close at hand, do you see Raina as the most destructive of India's top order batsmen who comes in after Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli?
Suresh is a very important player because of his flexibility in an excellent batting line-up. Sharma, Kohli and Raina must be three of the most exciting players in the world in any format.
What made you believe in him so much way back then?
His talent was exceptional and his all-round skills allowed for more flexibility in selection. Raina is one of the fastest fieldsmen that I have seen over a short distance. He reads the play so well and is so quick off the mark that he can cover the ground of two fieldsmen. On top of that, he has brilliant hands and a strong, accurate throwing arm. He is almost the quintessential limited overs cricketer.
With the trend of having different captains for each format, do you reckon Raina can be given the leadership role for the T20 team?
I would always pick the best person for the job. If one person is capable of doing all three formats then I would choose that person. Having said that, it is a huge job to do all three with the international program so full these days, so one has to be flexible and go with what is considered best for the team. Dhoni was a marvel to be able to do all three for so long. It is not an easy job to do.
Are you disappointed that Raina has not made an impression in Test cricket? On the other hand, do you think he has had enough opportunities a batsman needs to cement a place in the toughest of all formats?
I have no doubt that if Suresh had been given enough opportunities when he needed them, that he would have become an excellent Test batsman. Having said that, Suresh must take some of the responsibility. I have never spoken to him about it, but it appeared from a distance that he began to doubt himself in that format. Once one doubts oneself, it is not long before others lose confidence in one's ability to do the job.
Critics never fail to bring up his weakness against the shot ball? Is there merit in that criticism?
I have seen Suresh play some of the best fast bowlers in the world very well so the capability was there. Perhaps he didn't always have absolute belief in himself. If that is the case, he would not be the first talented batsman to have had those doubts.
Matches - 57
Runs - 1162
Highest score - 101
Average - 31.40
Strike rate - 133.25
Hundreds - 1
Fifties - 3
Matches - 222
Runs - 5886
Highest score - 109*
Average - 34.02
Strike rate - 139.94
Hundreds - 3
Fifties - 33