He can make you happy and can let you vent out the frustrations at equal measure. Has there ever been a bigger superstar in the Indian Premier League than him? The answer is simply No. For all his majesty, Chris Gayle and Virat Kohli haven’t been greater than him and there is a reason behind it.
After some handy performances in the Under-19 World Cup in 2004, Raina was considered more worthy of the then 'Player of the Tournament' Shikhar Dhawan, to add muscles to the Indian middle-order. It was a statement by itself and when Rahul Dravid saw him bat at the National Cricket Academy (NCA) nets, he admitted to have been quite impressed by the southpaw’s skill-set.
"There was something about the way he batted in that net. He was obviously a young talented kid and when he first came into the side a month later, you knew there was something different about him. He had the stroke-making ability and it seemed natural to back him," the former captain had told The Sunday Guardian.
But, the top level of international cricket draws a clear line between “prodigious talents” and “great players”, and there are infinite tales of cricketers failing to make it big after packing a lot of potentials. Raina, however, was not one of them. He had enjoyed some phenomenal highs in the limited-overs format and made a career with those heaves to midwicket and beautifully crafted drives through cover regions.
However, inconsistency marred his career big time and that kept him out of India's limited-overs sides for long. One of the main reasons was his failure to pass the yo-yo test that he cleared just three months ago and since then he has been in terrific form. On the back of being the sixth-highest run-getter in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, where he scored at a strike rate of 150, he was picked in the Indian team for the South African tour and boy did he just overpower the expectations.
The numbers like 15, 30, and 43 may not be earth-shattering, but the striking thing about those three innings was the way he batted. Unlike the previous version of himself - when he seemed to struggle once the ball was in the channel or bit short - he used his feet to great effect and found runs easy to come by. With Virat Kohli giving him a promotion to bat at No.3, he had a more difficult task of giving impetus to the innings.
In Cape Town, both skippers wanted to bowl on the wicket at the toss, which was enough to signify the enormity of the task at hand for the batsmen. With the ball nipping around under overcast skies, it was supposed to be a good beginning for the hosts. But, runs were needed to be scored against a softball and there was no time to be slow off the blocks, considering India’s middle-order fragilities. Knowing that this was his best chance to make a statement, Raina started putting on a show of outrageous shot-making ability, one that may give him a chance to forget the horror show of Wankhede, where he lost his stumps to a Rabada yorker.
He has done enough in the three-match series to be on the plane for the triangular T20I series in Sri Lanka, to which India is supposed to send a second string team. A good show there and another one in the familiar terrains for Chennai Super Kings in the IPL may result in him being a part of the England tour.
If the current team management was flexible enough to consider him a part of the team ahead of Shreyas Iyer, they can surely afford him if he continues to perform. That they do so despite him having played his last international match almost a year ago, should be the biggest life-line for him. And as the team management perch time and time again, they don’t care about excuses anymore and it is Raina’s chance to lose from here on.
But for now, Raina will be a relieved man while coming back to his lovely family. Maybe he can go