On April 30, 2009 at Centurion in South Africa, Suresh Raina raised his arms to celebrate what he thought was a maiden IPL century after slapping the ball past cover for four. But it was a premature celebration because the electronic scoreboard got it wrong. He was on 98. Believing he had reached three figures, Raina made room and scooped the next ball to backward point and was caught. When he realized what he done, or rather what he had not done, Raina shut his eyes and grimaced.
Just over four years later, Raina was on strike for the final over of an IPL match for Chennai Super Kings with six balls to go and 11 runs needed for his maiden century. This time he was not leaving anything to chance or technology. Raina left the first ball from Praveen Kumar, thinking it would be called wide. It was not.
Raina collected his thoughts, took guard and raised his backlift. Praveen sent down a full toss outside off stump, but instead of manufacturing a shot swinging hard, Raina steered the ball past point and ran hard for a couple. The third ball was full outside off stump and Raina drove it high down the ground for six, finishing the shot by holding his pose. It was a superb shot.
He was on 97 and there was no emotion on his face. He knew how tough the next three runs could be. Two of them came off the next ball with Raina driving through backward point and shouting to the nonstriker to come back for two. His legs pumped, he put in a ferocious dive, ate some dirt, came up and without looking around pumped a fist. He knew he was home. Sure enough, the next ball produced a safe shot through point for the single that gave Raina his maiden IPL century.
Since that Centurion 98, the closest Raina came to a century was in 2010 when he scored 83* against Mumbai Indians. There were other fifties, of course, but missing from Raina's CV was a three-figure knock. The highest run-scorer in the IPL history, as well as India's leading Twenty20 scorer, needed this innings to add to his reputation.
On the day, Raina was too good. He drove, cut, flicked and lofted - as only he can loft, inside-out with precision. Manpreet Gony was driven for two sixes in one over, Raina's right arm held to pretty effect after the ball pinged off his bat. R Sathish was swept with ferocity and guided behind point for fours. Praveen Kumar was heaved for six; what Raina innings would be complete without that shot?
When the century eventually did come, there were no cock-a-hoop celebrations. Raina knew better than that. This was his day, at last, and he chose to accept it with a calmness that CSK will hope he keeps for the rest of the league. After a slow start, Raina has come alive in the IPL. If this kind of batting keeps up, CSK could have their hands on the trophy a third time.