Small steps as Raina chases big runs
In the 30th over, MS Dhoni smashed the first ball he faced back at the offspinner James Tredwell. More often than is healthy, we have seen this shot run out the non-striker because they are always on the lookout for a single. Tredwell dived as the ball went to his left - he was bowling round the wicket - but behind him, Suresh Raina had his bat in the right hand, which was right in this case, and he dived back just in case. The ball hit the stumps, but the umpire didn't even need to check if Tredwell had got a finger on it because Raina was well in.
These are small things, as many a dopey batsman who has been run out at the non-striker's end or Mankaded will tell you. Raina does small things well. He backs up for throws; he dives around the every given opportunity; he slaps the bottoms of his team-mates when they field well; he enjoys fielding; he gives Dhoni a few miserly overs, which is why he is in the team playing ODIs outside Asia. For the big things - the runs - have mostly been a matter of potential when it comes to playing in tough conditions.
Before this match, Raina had crossed the score of 50 only three times in 55 innings outside Asia. That, for a specialist batsman, is not pretty. He had paid for it earlier in the year, when he was dropped after the New Zealand tour. He had a good IPL, again, and came back as the captain when many of the seniors gave the Bangladesh tour a miss. He retained that place for this England tour, which can be put down to what he brings to the side apart from his batting. He would have been under pressure to prove his batting.
He still will be, actually. This was a high-quality century, coming at a time when two batsmen had got out to soft dismissals in the middle of the innings, but Dhoni was quick to point out that it won't ensure Raina a fixed place in the World Cup plans.
"The thing is, if a batsman plays one good innings you talk him right up," Dhoni said. "If he doesn't play good a innings or if he had not played this innings, the question would have been entirely different. If he doesn't score in a couple of games against West Indies you will be the person asking some other question. Let's move ahead. It was a very good hundred. The World Cup is still three-four series away. Hopefully he won't be injured, and will be available for selection, and that will be good for us."
Dhoni might have been phlegmatic about the implications of the knock, but for the innings itself he was full of praise. "It was a fantastic knock," Dhoni said. "By the end of the 30th over, I don't know what the score was, but I don't think we had scored too many. It was important that he stayed there because he was one batsman who was set. And we have realised that if we can get a partnership going, if we have wickets in hand, we can have a lot of runs in the last 10-12 overs, so his innings was very crucial. He is someone who scores at a very quick pace, and plays authentic cricketing shots. So I feel he played a fantastic innings, once he got his fifty he continued and moved on to play some fantastic shots and got his hundred."
India were 110 for 3 in the 24th over when Raina came in. It was soon to become 132 for 4 in the 30th. This was a side that had spent the last two tours outside Asia without a win. They were looking at another slide. Raina could have been given out lbw on 17 but after that he played pretty much as well as you can play in that situation. There was his usual moving inside the line to counter the short ball, but there were some nice drives through the off side, and chips off the spinners.
Almost inconspicuously, Raina reached 36 off 43, and then exploded in the Powerplay. He used the ground's short straight boundaries well. He ran extremely well. Dhoni was allowed to play himself in, as he likes to do. It was a perfect No. 5's innings. Raina, who has not been able to cement himself a particular slot in the batting order and has been floating around, has got the captain's nod for No. 5. Dhoni said that 98 times out of 100, in similar situations, you will see Raina come in at No. 5. If only he can keep on playing as well as he did in Cardiff.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo