Raina fills gap in his IPL resumé
Think IPL. Think a left-hander, in yellow jersey, swiping them over midwicket. Chris Gayle may have captured the Indian public's imagination in recent seasons but Suresh Raina has been depositing sixes into the Chennai crowd ever since the IPL began. The condensed nature of Twenty20 and the everydayness of games in the two-month IPL season make it difficult for lasting images to form in one's mind. But that image of Raina has been a constant across the six seasons of the IPL, an instant recall whenever the name of the league comes up in discussions. Given this, it was kind of incongruous that Raina did not have a hundred till today in the tournament that has given him so much.
In many ways, the IPL has made Raina, and also given him the opportunity to do what he wanted to but has not been able to in international cricket. He hasn't been able to crack it at Test level, so far at least. He may have a case when he says he is not so bad against the short ball and is working on getting better, but he's also let it get into his head, and that has hampered his batting. Ability, perceived or not, hasn't been an issue in ODIs, but team combination has gone against him.
He's made it clear on more than a few occasions that he'd like to bat up the order in one-dayers so that he can have the chance to score more hundreds, but the India top order has been spoilt for choice. He's also developed a reputation as a finisher in the format, something that may have also worked against his ambition.
What couldn't happen in white or blue, has happened in the Chennai Super Kings yellow. From the start of the IPL, Raina has consistently batted far higher than he does for India, under the same captain. The result has been standout consistency - he's tallied more than 400 runs every IPL season thus far, and is on his way to do it again in 2013. He has the most T20 runs for an Indian, and among the top eight scorers in the format, is the only one who's not been a freelancer.
An IPL hundred. That was the one big feather missing from Raina's studded T20 cap. Paul Valthaty has it. Manish Pandey has it. It took six seasons to come, but belatedly, and finally, Raina has it too now. How much did it mean to him? On his 52nd delivery, in the mind-numbing Chennai heat, he sprawled into his crease to beat the throw on a second run to move to 99. He got up, pumped his fist and let out a cry. No, it wasn't premature celebration, but something else from four seasons ago was on his mind. He had avoided running himself out, and had the chance to get to the landmark which he thought he had achieved back in the 2009 IPL season in Centurion.
That day, a scoreboard error had fooled Raina into believing he had become the first Indian to reach an IPL hundred - Manish Pandey was yet to happen - when, in fact, he had reached 98. He jumped in the air, celebrated and fell the next ball, walking back with the belief he'd done it.
It took four more years, but Chennai, his base in the IPL, was a far more fitting venue than Centurion would have been. Not that weren't similarities between the two innings. That day, too, Raina made it look easy on a pitch which the rest of his team-mates could not quite thrive on. This time, he made light of a slow pitch to hit almost as many sixes as fours.
This was typical Raina. The effortless loft over extra cover, the late straight sixes that smashed into the sightscreen, the pick-up over midwicket, the late cut. And the tireless running in the afternoon heat. He had a large blue towel on his head during the time-outs and was receiving shoulder and back rubs. Chennai 2013 was hard-earned, as was SSC 2010.
Whatever happens to his Test career, no one can take away from Raina that debut hundred in Sri Lanka. This is vastly different, and not only on the importance scale. It is also in a different context. While that marked an unbelievable start to what has been largely disappointment since; this fills the remaining void in what has been a golden career in yellow.
Abhishek Purohit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo