A case study on Suresh Raina – Is he an elite Indian cricketer?

Author : Debotosh Chatterjee

TAUNTON, ENGLAND - JULY 17: India batsman Suresh Raina hits a boundary during day three of the tour match between Somerset and India at the county ground on July 17, 2011 in Taunton, England. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Even though the Indian team management has been highly fastidious in its approach towards selection of players in the national team in the last one year, one need not be a hardcore cricket analyst to understand that a few serious issues have forever been pushed to the fringes of the official discussions and debates.

The snowballing fortunes of Suresh Raina in the last year, unfortunately not complemented by on-field performances for the Indian team, is one of those issues that the BCCI has been constantly trying to duck for quite some time now. Poor form in ODIs and international T20s, following a sorry exit from the Test team, has for long been haunting this swashbuckling south paw outside his IPL life; and inspite of an unabated journey downhill, the BCCI chose to reward the CSK star with a Grade A contract alongside team mates Dhoni, Ashwin and Kohli just a couple of months ago.

Suresh Raina’s career was not the most attractive to start with – as a fledgling middle order batsman for the ODI team, he was often found wanting in the fortitude and mental paraphernalia to handle the team in times of crisis. After being left out of the squad for the CWC 2007, the prodigious UP lad made a stunning comeback to the ODI side by virtue of the truckloads of runs which he had accrued in domestic cricket at that point of time.

It was this comeback that was instrumental in exemplifying Suresh Raina as an ideal flag-bearer of India’s next-gen ODI aspirations. No sooner had he managed to cement his place in the ODI side than he received his prestigious maiden call up for the Test squad, summoned to replace the injured Yuvraj Singh in a Test against Sri Lanka at Colombo in July 2010 – and it was right in that very Test match that Suresh Raina became the 12th Indian to hit a ton on Test debut.

The euphoria emanating from the more-than-likely prospects of the energetic left hander becoming a permanent feature in the Indian Test team, though, was ephemeral and vanished into oblivion as soon as Raina set sail for his first major overseas assignment in Test cricket – in South Africa in 2010.

Raina’s appalling deficiencies in handling the short ball were brutally exposed in that series, and India’s tour of England in 2011 only served to reinforce the need to scrutinise his place in the Test side. After a few more fruitless experiments at home and abroad, the hyperbolic Raina was dropped from the Test team in late 2012.

This setback though was never a cause for the apparent erosion in his ODI and international T20 credentials which took a severe hit in 2013, inspite of successful outings in the Indian Premier League season after season. And it was in this gory bifurcation in Suresh Raina’s career that the BCCI’s Grade A contract became a bone of contention and immediately attracted a slew of ugly public questions.

The public outcry is justified to some extent, for there is scarcely any logic behind rewarding a non-performing asset with such an elite rank. This contract for Suresh Raina signifies that the management is pulling out all stops to wrench him out of the present abyss and impress upon him the idea that he shall be counted upon as one of India’s most valued cricketers leading up to the CWC 2015. This approach, though, is pregnant with a number of outrageous fallacies –

  1. Creating a dangerous mismatch between Raina’s on-field performance and off-field remunerations is bound to have a negative effect on the others included in this much fancied BCCI hierarchy. The others in Grade A include Kohli, Ashwin and Dhoni – all of whom are undoubtedly worthy of such a distinction. However a few others, like Cheteshwar Pujara, who rightfully deserve this rank but have been coldly left out of consideration, are bound to feel hard done by the BCCI’s irrational preference for Raina over them. Needless to say, the Raina contract has already sent a few wrong signals into the innermost sanctums of the Indian team.
  2. More than anything else, it is sure to provide an effective impetus to the public discourse on the growing clout of the CSK management-led (read ‘N.Srinivasan led‘) lobby in BCCI and Indian cricket. A mere look at Raina’s track record in the last two years shall suggest that the contract is more of a gift for the southpaw’s continuing stellar form as a CSK star, than as a honour for outstanding services rendered to the cause of glorifying Indian cricket on international stages.
  3. The time at which this inexplicable BCCI move has come about also does not help the Indian team in any discernible way. The upcoming tours of New Zealand and England before the CWC 2015, in all probability, shall only help accentuate Raina’s ever persistent discomfort in facing the short ball (and more so on bouncy tracks available abroad). Considering the fact that the last twelve months have been outright horrible for him, one cannot help but get puzzled at why the BCCI chose to gift the long rope to Suresh Raina instead of asking him to go back to the drawing board, revise himself using the Ranji Trophy this year and then come back afresh for the all important CWC 2015!

The sheer imbecility entrenched in BCCI’s outlook towards Suresh Raina throws enough light on the possibility of him becoming deadwood in the team well before the World Cup defence campaign is set afoot. Such a transmogrification in the life of one of the most proficient new age cricketers in India can only be termed ‘unfortunate’.

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