No More Short Shrift for Raina
By Sandip G | Published: 01st September 2014 06:07 AM |
CHENNAI: One knock does not a career make. Suresh Raina knows this, perhaps more than most. But one knock certainly can bust perceptions. For Raina, his century in Cardiff was just that, the tour de force that detonated his much-storied susceptibility to short-pitched bowling.
Cardiff was by no means a trampoline surface. He would encounter faster ones in Australia next year. And brisker bowlers would again tilt lances at his rib cage to gash forth the vulnerability that has been attached to his collar like a canine’s neck belt. But methodical as he was in Cardiff —under glowering skies with glistening Kookaburras hemming around, his team in a ditch of concern — he had a fitting repartee to every possible query thrown at him. His mind seemed clear and strokes fluent, as if his game has found a fresh tenor and tempo, a note that suddenly transformed him from a chorus-boy to a conductor. He was certain and sure-footed, either fully back or wholly forward, without any preempting.
His drives were as punchy as authoritative, a direct upshot of taming his nemesis, the short-ball darted at his rib-cage. At other times, doubting his ability to meet the short-ball, his feet were often stuck at the crease and he would edge even drivable balls. So, more than the feared bouncer, the ensuing fuller-ball had nailed him in the past. And once a dismissal becomes a pattern, it begins to haunt the batsman.
So Raina’s failing was as much as mental as technical. “I told him not to be bothered about the criticism and it was all up to what he feels about handling short balls. Then I worked a bit with his head position and balance when playing on the back foot,” reflected former cricketer Pravin Amre, whose advice Raina had sought before the series. Followed four days of intense practice. “I asked him to practise defending short balls without a helmet using tennis balls. He would face 500-800 serves at his rib cage in a session. Thus he became more comfortable and was fully confident. Naturally, if you sort out a particular weakness, your overall confidence improves,” Amre explained.
His weakness relatively sorted out, the rest fell into place automatically, for his finishing skills and ability to pace the innings were seldom disputed. From 36 off 43 balls, he romped off to 100 off only 74.
“He is such a player that once he gets in, he ticks the run-rate along, and even when he is not playing the big shots, he maintains a decent strike rate. And in the end, he can really improvise. He is a wonderful finisher and used to batting under pressure situations,” reckoned former batsman Mohinder Amarnath, one of the few Indians known for gutsy showing against the West Indian pace battery of his time.
Raina’s utility is obvious — he is a vibrant fielder, canny part-time bowler and a bundle of energy, irrespective of the match-scenario. But his record outside Asia — 1, 371 runs at 30.67 in 63 matches — made him listless in bouncy and seaming conditions. But his Cardiff hundred and the 42 at Trent Bridge promise an upswing.
“Batting at No 5 or 6, it’s difficult to get hundreds. But it’s a crucial position, and more often than not their contribution makes a huge difference. Raina has donned the role brilliantly in the subcontinent but has struggled in overseas conditions. If he keeps batting like this, he can prosper anywhere and India will surely have a solid batting line-up in time for the World Cup,” he added.
To turn a new leaf often has a hyperbolic resonance. But it Raina’s case, it might just be true. Only that it has taken him nine years and 193 matches.