Is this the end of the road for Suresh Raina?

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Is this the end of the road for Suresh Raina?

October 25th, 2016 marks one year since Suresh Raina last represented India in an ODI after multiple failures following the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015. Will he be able to make a successful comeback as India set their sights on the Champions Trophy 2017?

It is hard to notice, but it's already been one year since Suresh Raina found his name on India's teamsheet. The Uttar Pradesh batsman played his last One-day game exactly one year back on October 25th, and, sadly, he has not been missed thus far. Even though he played in the ever-present shadows of MS Dhoni and Yuvraj Singh in the middle order, the UP lad's contributions down the order were always been valuable. Who can forget his short but effective innings of 34* against Australia in the quarterfinals of the 2011 WC and his 36* runs against bitter rivals Pakistan in the semifinals. It was, indeed, unfortunate for the left-hander that he had to miss the ongoing series against New Zealand due to viral fever. However, has he done enough in the recent past to merit that recall into the team?

Watching India exit from ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 in the semifinals was indeed very hard to digest, but there were positives for India from the campaign, and Suresh Raina's performances was one among them. Raina's form going into the tournament was below average, but his well-paced knock of 74 against Pakistan helped India maintain their unbeaten record in World Cups against their arch-rivals. Apart from being a live wire in the field, his knocks against Zimbabwe and Bangladesh played a key role in India's six-match undefeated run into the semifinals before being ousted by Australia.

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But his diminishing powers with the bat were underlined during IPL 2015, in which the CSK batsman scored just 374 runs in 17 matches. It was the first time the then tournament's highest run-getter had scored less than 400 runs in a single edition. But it was his failure in the bilateral series loss in Bangladesh that had the team management looking for his replacement for Raina.

With Ajinkya Rahane's claim for the No. 4 growing stronger, Raina had the chance to prove himself in the middle order in the very first ODI of the series. India were 3 down for 105 chasing a target of 307, and although he started well, Raina's departure at a crucial juncture with India needing 120 more runs led to the Indian tail capitulating without a batsman to shepherd them. As a result, India lost the match by 79 runs. Though it was a collective failure from the Indian batsmen, Raina's role in the match came under scrutiny.

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But, the southpaw found skipper Dhoni's support as Rahane was replaced by Ambati Rayudu in the next match. It was, however, once again the same story for Raina when he walked in - the scorecard read 4 for 110, and the team needed him to steady the innings. The left-hander did not justify the lifeline offered by his captain by edging an easy catch to the keeper, and India were all out for 200 runs. Despite India winning the third ODI, the middle-order collapse was a worrying factor.

The home series against South Africa was seen as an opportunity for Raina to get back into form, but what transpired was quite the opposite. The first three matches were forgettable for the left-hander - he registered a score of 3 in the first ODI followed by two ducks in the next two games.  Once capable of taking apart bowling attacks at home, Raina was reduced to a technically inadequate batsman by the end of the series. His struggles with the short ball continued, and the Proteas bowlers got him out on three occasions using this weakness. A half-century in the fourth ODI was not enough to justify his position in the team with India losing the series to South Africa after that shameful 214-run loss in the fifth ODI.

Now devoid of confidence, form, and fitness, Raina's situation reminded fans of his days back in 2007. Making his ODI debut as a teenager back in 2005, the UP lad was one of the finest young talents for Indiagoing into the 2007 World Cup. But a career-threatening knee injury ruled him out of the WC squad travelling to the Caribbean. However, Raina made a remarkable comeback into the squad a year later with two hundreds in the Asia Cup.

But things look very different for the 29-year old now. If the selectors looked at his stats in the last IPL or domestic season, it is hard to give him a chance in the national side. A combined tally of 80 runs in the Asia Cup T20 and World T20 followed by being upstaged by Virat Kohli in the IPL 2016 season did not bolster the case for the southpaw, who is arguably the best IPL batsman ever. 

Raina's performances in the Asia Cup T20 and ICC World T20 2016 have not been up to the mark © Getty

It was then not surprising when Raina, who captained India's reserve team back in 2010, was not even in the squad for the tour of Zimbabwe in June 2016. Duleep Trophy offered another chance to impress the selectors and his knocks of 52, 35 and 90 as India Green's captain do appear to have played a part in his selection for the ongoing ODI series.

Back in 2007, Raina was one for the future, but now with just a month away from being 30 years old, his position in the team is as precarious as all-rounder Irfan Pathan's was in 2009. Despite declaring Raina unfit for the fourth and fifth ODIs against New Zealand, the team management has not called in a replacement for him. This could be seen as a sign that MS Dhoni has some trust left in his former CSK teammate to make a strong comeback. With the Champions Trophy in 2017 looming, the upcoming home series against England will be India's last ODI series before the tournament, and it could be the last straw in Raina's ODI career. 

It appears highly likely that we will soon see an end to the career of the charismatic left-hander, who was once one of India's biggest talents. While some would expect Suresh Raina to carve his way back just like he did in 2008, England, who are up next for the Indian team, are no UAE or Hong Kong. Under coach Trevor Bayliss, the Poms have become one of the fearless teams in the world winning consecutive ODI series against Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The script appears set, but will Raina stage a comeback against the odds, if given a chance? Only the next two months will tell.

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