While his capabilities as a Test player remain in doubt, in colored clothing Suresh Raina has emerged with his reputation enhanced after India's 3-2 series win over England. Four innings, four half-centuries, the most runs and the Man-of-the-Series award for the first time in a 159-game career dating back to 2005. In a series in which the other Indian batsman struggled for consistency, Raina was a beacon of hope. Perhaps, just perhaps, he has turned a corner.
All series he batted with a degree of confidence and composure that was missing from most other Indian batsmen. While the rest struggled or were patchy, Raina has stepped up each time he faced England in the series. What has stood out is well he has controlled India's innings, how he was able to shore up the pressure of top-order wobbles and build an innings.
In the first match at Rajkot, Raina walked in at 138 for 3 with India chasing 326 and scored 50 off 49 deliveries. His wicket, popping a catch back to Tredwell, proved the turning point of the chase. At Kochi, Raina entered with India 71 for 3 and scored 55 off 78 balls to help the total to 285. He wasn't required to bat at Ranchi but helped take India over the finish line with an unbeaten 89 off 79 balls after coming to the crease at 90 for 3. And in the final match at Dharamsala his 93-ball 83 was the only fifty of India's 227; from 24 for 3 Raina took the score to 177 before pulling a catch to midwicket in the 42nd over. In conditions not typically Indian, with plenty of seam and bounce, Raina has reason to feel most proud of that 83. It was his fourth consecutive half-century of the series and seventh in 11 innings. It didn't set up victory, but without Raina India would have been rolled over cheaply.
Raina is not always the most fluent of starters. We have often seen him drive loosely outside off stump or poke hesitantly; in the first game an inside edge saved him from being stumped when on 2 and on Sunday he was dropped at second slip on 5. He has also often tried to play big shots early on. It works more often than not. At Kochi he brought the slog-sweep as early as his 12th delivery faced and connected well. On Sunday he found himself having to control himself but still managed to collect four boundaries in his first 19 balls faced. They weren't big shots; instead Raina relied on timing and placement.
His 277 runs in the series were easily the best on either side. His 26 boundaries are third to only Ian Bell (27) Alastair Cook (35). His strike-rate rate for the series is 92.33; twice he has scored at over a run-a-ball. He has picked the deliveries to hit. He hasn't been taken out by the short balls. He has played the economic and persistent James Tredwell with confidence. Tredwell is the leading wicket-taker of the series and constant threat - he removed Yuvraj Singh four times - but Raina's handling off the offspinner has been solid. He faced the most deliveries from Tredwell (84) off which he scored 59 runs for a strike-rate of 70. Of batsmen to face at least 20 deliveries from only MS Dhoni (79) and Rohit Sharma (130.76) had better strike-rates though the latter faced him only once. Yuvraj (57) and Ravindra Jadeja (42) struggled against Tredwell.
Raina had a tough run in Test cricket in 2012, but in ODIs he was a steady player in ODIs. In 17 innings he scored 492 runs at an average of 41, a number boosted significantly by five unbeaten innings. He crossed fifty four times and though he didn't always score big, Raina contributed good innings. His 38 in a chase of 270 at Adelaide was the third-highest score of the innings; an unbeaten 40 off 24 balls was crucial in a stand of 120 with Virat Kohli as India hauled down 321 in 36.4 overs; a 38-ball 51 against Bangladesh helped India overcome Sachin Tendulkar's sluggish 100th century and reach 289; and three fifties in five innings in Sri Lanka all contributed to India's series win. Much better figures than some of his team-mates and enough to keep his place in the ODI team.
Against Pakistan, Raina found himself forced to rebuild the innings in each outing as evident by a strike-rate of 48.42. He made starts but his failure to press on left India reliant on Dhoni. Hence his success against England assumes greater significance in the series context. He took responsibility, something Indian batsmen have failed to do of late.
Raina can look back at these four innings and take plenty of confidence and pride in his work. India don't play ODIs until June when the ICC Champions Trophy starts in England, but Raina should now use this excellent run of form to press for a recall to the Test team. He needs to do so to be considered a very good player.
For a middle-order batsman, his ODI average of 36.98 and strike-rate of 91.55 are mighty impressive numbers. Raina is 26, so should have a good six or seven years left in him. He's fit, a great fielder, has been a part of a World Cup-winning team. Yet he continue to find criticism as an international player and is considered by many as one-dimensional. A two-shot, flat-track bully. Raina's game leaves much to be desired in Test cricket. His short-ball troubles are well documented. He averages higher in Asia than in Australia, England and South Africa.
Raina still has a lot to do change perceptions. Perhaps, just perhaps, he will use this series as the platform to pursue greater glory.