CHENNAI:The systematic chaos at the fall of Ajinkya Rahane was not meant for Suresh Raina. It was in anticipation of MS Dhoni. It would have even bewildered Raina a little — not that they love him, one of their own Chennai Super Kings’ favourite, less, but they love the skipper more. And the backstory of Raina’s recent travails — successive zeroes and just three runs in this series — wouldn’t have furnished them with hopes of a typical smash-and-grab Raina innings.
Raina must have felt over-burdened, for when you are treading trough, you wish to pass off incognito, without the oppressive public glare, and passively regain your touch. In that sense, it helped Raina that Virat Kohli was in the middle of constructing a masterful hundred, and the focus of the crowd seldom wavered from the latter. Moreover, he had less pressure as the team was well placed after and it was just the 27th over. All that was required, from the team’s and crowd’s perspective, was for him to rotate strike, which he diligently guaranteed.
Then he unfurled the bigger strokes, in less Raina-like fashion, in that it came mostly down the wicket. Generally, the left-hander prefers the arc between point and cover and from midwicket to square leg. But here Raina made a conscious effort to play straighter — all three of his boundaries and the sole six were found via this region, totaling 28 off his 53 runs. Even more pleasing was that he resisted the temptation, even to spinners, to unfurl those of-late unproductive slogs through midwicket, which undid him in Kanpur, with the match on a knife’s edge.
The team strategists’ nous to send him ahead of Dhoni, who batted at number five in the first three games, stood vindicated. “He had made a few bad decisions in shot making, in that he played the big shots a bit a too early. So we thought he needed some time in the middle and it was the perfect time. Also, we should take into consideration that with the new rule change, it’s very difficult for a number six or seven batsman to freely get going with the big shots,” said Dhoni.
In that sense, they were accurate with their assessment of sending the right batsman at the right time. Rahane has done fairly well in his excursions at number three, but Kohli proved he is better aligned to the task, in that he can, once settled, provide a different dimension to the game altogether. And in the case of a wobble, as India endured, Rahane demonstrated he can be trusted at number four. Consequently, India accumulated 187 runs between the 10th and 40th overs.
While India have seemingly found a workable middle-order formula — based on the values of flexibility — they have been worryingly lagging at the death. Despite having six wickets intact, going into the last five overs, they managed 29 runs. In Kanpur, they managed just 40, in Indore was 35.
Then, in general, there has been a free-fall of runs in this span after the reintroduction of the fifth fielder outside the ring in the last 10 overs, making bowlers a pleased lot. “Guys realised after the World Cup how difficult it is to bowl in the last 10 overs. Teams were getting scores of 380 to 400 on a regular basis and that was only because of that one guy. Now it’s a more even contest,” opined Dale Steyn.
Or someone give Dhoni the magic elixir of youth.