He was once considered as India’s Left-handed answer to Sachin Tendulkar’s prowess and Sourav Ganguly’s elegance. He was also called as India’s future by the former Indian coach Greg Chappell. And though one might not remember much, his contribution to winning the 2011 Cricket World Cup with Team India should not be deemed small. Suresh Raina has done it all. But did he have the recognition he deserved, is a debatable question in itself.
He had resounding victories as captain, during Dhoni’s absence against a depleted West Indian team in 2011. But forget captaincy, even his Vice captaincy never saw the light of the day. The star-studded batting lineup of India comprising Dhoni, Kohli, Yuvraj had Raina as an inevitable chess piece for a long long time. But he was the effective one, rather than being the star.
During 2005 when Sourav Ganguly was abruptly dropped from the Indian side. At that time Raina made a name for himself at the international level by scoring unbeaten innings of 81 against England at Faridabad. Raina was just 19 years old back then and was deemed as a possible replacement to Ganguly instantly. And later during his test debut when Raina managed to score 120 runs, he was again compared to Dada.
Raina was the first Indian to score centuries in all formats of the game. His maiden test ton in his debut match made pundits compare him to Ganguly. But that was it. Since his International debut, where he was bowled for a duck Sri Lanka at the age of 18 Raina played some of the most important innings for India in white-ball crickets that brought glory to the blues.
He might not have a whole lot of centuries like a Sehwag or a Kohli, but what he adds to the team on the field, saving runs with his scintillating fielding or batting lower down the order in difficult circumstances are things that mad his such an important member of the team while he was there.
I would just pick two examples from Raina’s career to prove my point. Remember the 2011 World Cup semi-final against Pakistan in Mohali. India did get off to a flyer, courtesy Sachin Tendulkar. But after the opening burst by India, it was Wahab Riyaz’s turn to strike back for Pakistan. Remember Wahab’s fiery spell that saw him earn 5 wickets in the match? You might. But do you remember who stabilized the Indian innings that day? It was Suresh Raina.
A dream spell from Wahab Riaz saw him picking up Kohli and the in-form Yuvraj in quick succession. Dhoni was out of touch in the tournament till that point of time. Though he tried hard, Dhoni couldn’t convert into a big score. Raina came into the crease at the start of 38th over and things were not looking good for the team. With 12 overs remaining, 230 to 240 was the projected score. But even with no one to support him, Raina went on to build up an innings that help India reach the final. India eventually managed to set a challenging target because of Raina’s 36 runs. Yes, 36 runs might not be a big score but his contribution at 7 was invaluable. That day, Sachin did win the ‘Man of the Match’ but it was Raina who swelled India’s total. Even in the previous match, it was Raina who along with Yuvraj against the Aussies, who calmed the nerves by scoring 34 in 28 balls. Yuvi was adjudged as the Man of the Match. But without Raina’s support, it would have been another loss for India against the Australians in the World Cups.
Another match I want to remember today is that of Indian Vs Pakistan in the 2015 World Cup. India batted first and finished with 300 in 50 overs. When it comes to remembering the star in this match, everyone remembers that amazing century by Kohli. But one tends to forget the support he got from the other side, instead of which it would not have been possible for Kohli to pile up that run. And no second guess who was there on the pitch as Kohli’s partner. In the 110-run stand he had with Kohli, he out-scored the right-hander. The moment everyone would cherish for a long time was when Raina raised his arm in happiness after Kohli got to his hundred. The left-hander himself finished at 74 off just 56 balls. And these are the small, yet important contributions that Raina gifted India with. He won India many matches without being recognized as the hero.