It was a veritable feast, watching, listening and tracking the Indian batting might demolish the hapless New Zealand attack in Christchurch on Sunday. Sachin Tendulkar, closing in on his 36th birthday, enjoyed himself as he scored another big hundred, Yuvraj Singh and skipper Mahender Singh Dhoni picked up half-centuries.
For unabashed Tendulkar fans, it was a day to celebrate the little big man’s maiden one-day international hundred in the land where he opened the innings for the first time in 1994, thanks to a crick in Navjot Singh Sidhu’s neck. The controlled manner in which he crafted his innings was a delightful lesson.
Some years ago, when Tendulkar played one of his trademark innings, you would find it hard to remember much else but Sunday was different. The little big champion paced his innings so well that it was another special knock. Yet, Yuvraj Singh’s clean strikes and Suresh Raina’s clinical demolition claim their own place in our mind space
Raina walked in when Tendulkar retired with five overs left with the score at 338. Raina lost no time in joining the run feast and made 38 runs off 18 deliveries as India added 64 runs in the span of the five overs. This was a perfect example of a batsman understanding his responsibilities and ensuring that the team derived the maximum benefit.
The manner in which he hit Tim Southee for four sixes in two successive overs also spoke about his confidence in his abilities to deliver the big blows almost at will. It is such skill that stops him from being dwarfed in the presence of Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj and Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
Not too long ago, he was readily cast aside as coach Greg Chappell’s chosen one. But he was back when Dhoni assumed captaincy and he has not let the skipper down. He did not get to play any game in the Commonwealth Bank series in Australia as Rohit Sharma and Robin Uthappa got to play all 10 games that India featured in.
Since the time he has come back to the XI, Raina has played 27 games and he has produced a score of 50-plus once in three games. He has shown that he can adapt, batting fairly well at No. 3, better at No. 4 and as a wonderful finisher lower down the order, taking our minds back to talk of him as the Michael Bevan of the Indian team.
It is not important for us to see Raina as anyone else but as Raina himself, a special talent who has raised the bar and has succeeded thus far. He has known the pain of being out of the side and has worked hard to show that he deserves to be in the one-day squad on the strength of his merit and his consistency alone.
The 22-year-old’s next challenge will be to eliminate the string of early exits that have also punctuated his career in the past eight or nine months. Of course, no batsman can ensure that he succeeds every time but Raina can work to reduce the frequency with which he has got out early.