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Raina has shown the willingness to learn

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For nearly a month after his hurried 20 against the Cricket Australia XI in Adelaide in December, Suresh Raina did not face another ball on tour. It was on January 6, a full thirty-two days later with the series lost, that he was finally named in the eleven, for his first Test match in 28 months.

How must he have felt that morning? Clearly better than the next, for he was out first ball in the first innings, dismissed not facing a short delivery but anticipating one. He lasted three balls in the second, again out without scoring. Raina’s plight must have found sympathy, but sympathy does not build a Test career.

Another month later and Raina has punched Pakistan in the gut in India’s opening World Cup match. His 56-ball 74 has airlifted the team out of its path to an acceptable total and dropped it on the road to a commanding one. It is easy to say that one-day cricket comes naturally to him, but confidence cannot be turned on and off like a tap.

“The role that’s assigned to him — I think in this game he did it perfectly well,” M.S. Dhoni said of Raina after Sunday’s win. “He was provided with a platform where he could go in and be a bit more expressive. What we really liked was he took a few deliveries initially and then went on to play the big shots. In fact he was more calculated in his innings, and he picked his areas where he wanted to hit. He read the bowlers well as to where they wanted to bowl. He put pressure, and that’s what it’s all about. If you can put pressure on the bowlers, you will push them to commit more mistakes — bowling where they don’t want to bowl.”

Mildly harried

There were periods of discomfort in Raina’s innings. Mohammad Irfan and Wahab Riaz mildly harried him during the batting Powerplay, drawing a pair of clumsy pull shots, but he came through all right. If opposing teams were to draw up a list of Indian batsmen to be bounced out on Australian pitches at the World Cup, Raina’s name would possibly be on top.

But if anything, the left-hander has shown a willingness to learn.

His time in Australia during the Tests has not been spent carrying the drinks alone, it would seem. He made 53 from three outings in the ODI series that followed, looking not in the form of his life — understandably — but still capable.

Last year, as preparation for the ODI series in England, Raina spent four days with Pravin Amre, addressing his long-standing issues against the short ball.

Amre smashed tennis balls at him with a racquet, from a distance of 15 yards in the nets. “I gave him less reaction time,” Amre said. “To even leave that ball, you will have to be in the correct position. It was more about survival than attack.”

That Raina played the way he did against Pakistan will have delighted the side, for India has no one else to fulfil that role with the bat (or on the field, what with his catching and relentless encouragement). His promotion to No. 4, where he had only featured 17 times in 207 previous matches, went off without a hitch.

Dhoni has spoken a dozen times of when a player bats being more important than where, but it takes understanding and clarity of purpose to pull that off.

“Raina should usually be in around the 30-over stage, plus or minus two-three overs,” Dhoni said afterwards. “So that he gets to play a few overs before the Powerplay, to see the bounce of the pitch, and then accelerate and stay till the end.

“The more he bats, it’s more difficult to stop him. After the top three, we want floaters, because if a wicket falls in the 32nd over and we send in Ajinkya, there would be undue pressure on him to maintain that scoring rate. Raina is more suited for that job.”

In an interview to the BCCI website after the match, Raina spoke of emulating Yuvraj Singh from 2011. Sunday’s 74 was Raina’s top score from 13 ODI appearances in Australia; at least he has begun well.

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