As he dropped a catch to his left in the 24th over of Zimbabwe’s innings, Suresh Raina must have contemplated the woes of fielding at first slip. Hamilton Masakadza might have gained a new life, but Raina’s international career certainly didn’t.
Of course, one dropped opportunity does not make him butter fingers overnight, but his repeated flattering-to-deceive stunts with the willow are making him a liability in the playing eleven; more so, since proven youngsters are breathing down his neck on the sidelines.
The unpredictability of cricket exploits the inconsistency of its players like no other sport. Ironical as it may seem, it was only three years back at this same venue that Suresh Raina had been handed over the captaincy, during the absence of seniors in the tri-series involving Sri Lanka. Harare of 2013, nonetheless, presents an entirely different scenario, with Virat Kohi as the skipper and Raina gradually transforming into a liability in the middle order.
Fate has always robbed the Uttar Pradesh batsman of the accolades he deserves. Playing at No. 6, his role has been basically that of a finisher than of a pivotal slogger. Part-time off-spin and fantastic fielding renders him the versatility of a complete cricketer.
Within years of breaking into the national side, Raina had cemented a place for himself in the lower middle order on the back of some comprehensive performances. Today, it’s shockingly unsettling to watch his throne being threatened by promising batsmen who lack his flexibility. Having said that, all he needs is one stupendous presentation to seal the lips of his critics.
The astonishingly steady and convincingly authoritarian emergence of Virat Kohli certainly did not aid Raina’s decline, as the latter, a debutant centurion in Test cricket, soon lost his place to orthodox customers like Cheteshwar Pujara.
Despite being a core member of the team in the limited overs format, Raina is no longer viewed as a Test material who can propel the innings and fight for his wicket. While his determination has never been put to scrutiny, his doggedly prolonged concentration and penchant for playing long innings haven’t been put on display either.
Not that his technique has undergone massive alterations in the past couple of years. In fact, he began this year on a splendid note with an expectedly brilliant IPL season. Things, however, plunged into serious depths with less than satisfactory outings in England and West Indies.
The lack of high back-lift continues to cause problems with the rising delivery, while his tendency to go too far across on the front foot has cost him time and again recently.
Being a finisher has, perhaps, modified his mental approach to the game, as he now appears more vulnerable to rash shots than before. Getting dismissed on merit-less deliveries that lack pace and swing is least likely to enhance Raina’s reputation as a responsible hitter. 135 runs in the last 10 matches for the country, with only two unbeaten knocks, aren’t really impressive figures when your team is ranked No. 1 in ODIs.
The Zimbabwe tour was supposed to be a vitalizing one for Suresh Raina’s career. Instead, it has been Ambati Rayudu and Jaydev Unadkat who’ve capitalized on this serendipitous occasion.
With two immensely capable names in the form of Ajinkya Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara warming the benches for quite some time now, one is forced to wonder whether the team management is going overboard with its faith in Raina.
The message on the wall is clear and obvious. Suresh Raina gets his final opportunity in the third match on August 1. For realists, however, it’s already time for coronation of the deserving candidates warming the bench.