Sri Lanka v India, 4th ODI, Colombo July 30, 2012

Raina and the art of finishing

Suresh Raina has been one of India's finest finishers in limited overs cricket for a few years, but he doesn't get his due

Say what you will about his abilities as a Test batsman, but Suresh Raina showed once again on Saturday why he is one of the finest finishers in limited-overs cricket. He walked in to face Lasith Malinga's hat-trick ball with India needing more than a 100 runs at an asking-rate approaching seven-and-a-half. He saw it gallop to above nine an over after the fall of the centurion Gautam Gambhir before taking India home in the last over along with Irfan Pathan.

The big guns at the top of the India batting order get the hundreds and set up the game but it is Raina who walks into a no-win situation at No. 5 or No. 6. If he gets quick runs, it is said to be because of the platform provided by the preceding batsmen; if he doesn't, he is blamed for failing to utilise it.

What helps Raina is that he backs his style of play, whatever the state of the game. He'll walk in busily, take a few brisk singles to size up the situation, and before you know it, he would have moved into the 20s with a four or two. More often than not, the boundary will be a nudge down the leg side or a guide past point unless he gets a really loose ball. All the time, he'll look to push hard for the second or the third run, putting the fielders under pressure. When he is certain that the time has arrived, he will pull out his signature strokes - the bent-knee loft over extra cover and the heave over midwicket.

There was a time against West Indies last year when he was going for big strokes too early in his innings and perishing. But now, he is back to his usual style of building an innings and has three fifties in his last five outings.

Every now and then, Raina has been rescuing Indian chases when early wickets have fallen or when the asking-rate has risen too high. In only his eighth ODI innings, Raina hit an unbeaten 81 as India recovered from 92 for 5 to chase 227 against England in 2006. He even has a hundred at No. 6, when he took India to 245 from 60 for 5 in a tri-series final against Sri Lanka in 2010. Probably the most memorable instance is when he hit a quick unbeaten 34 to help Yuvraj Singh lift India into the 2011 World Cup semi-final. India were 187 for 5 chasing Australia's 260 when Raina came in for only his second game of the tournament, with Yusuf Pathan having been preferred over him earlier.

The situation was more dire on Saturday, in that Raina was the only specialist batsmen remaining. India had lost MS Dhoni and Rohit Sharma to the first two balls of the batting Powerplay; they lost Gambhir three overs later. Raina had only Irfan for company with R Ashwin to follow. Both men are not bad with the bat, but you wouldn't bet on them single-handedly turning a game around with it. Raina was on seven when Irfan walked in. He would end on 65, Irfan on 34 - a creditable supporting act - with the partnership worth 92 off 67.

Yes, there were some edges that brought fours, Sri Lanka missed a couple of run-out chances, Raina was even dropped on 19, by substitute fielder Sachithra Senanayake, but there was also lots of sensible running by the duo, and nerveless boundary hitting by Raina when needed.

To Irfan's credit, he gave the strike regularly to Raina without trying much daredevilry himself but it was the latter who had to rein in the asking-rate, which had risen to 9.37 at the start of the 44th over. It was in this over, bowled by Isuru Udana, that the game started to turn around. Raina managed a couple of fours, heaving past short fine leg and outside-edging past short third man.

Then came the big moment. Malinga returned in the 45th to bowl the first of his remaining three overs. Fifty-two needed off six overs, including three from Malinga - a lot of IPL sides will tell you that it is much harder than an asking-rate of 8.66.

If you give him an opportunity the way we did, he will finish the game off so credit to him
Mahela Jayawardene

Against Raina, even Malinga does not favour the yorker. Three of the four deliveries he bowled to Raina in that over were short balls. Raina expectedly could not do much with them, but he made sure he guided the fourth, a yorker outside off, past the wicketkeeper for four. With two men waiting at backward point for a squarer stroke. Irfan did the same off the last ball of the over, and Raina finished the game after that.

Angelo Mathews was lofted over extra cover for four and Malinga was heaved in trademark Raina fashion over long-on for six, the ball remaining in the air long enough and travelling far enough to firmly signal that the turnaround was complete.

As a reminder of how close the margin is in such tight finishes, there was another inside-edged four, off Mathews, and a throw, again by Mathews, that would have run out Raina by quite some distance, had it hit.

Mahela Jayawardene rued the missed opportunities but gave credit to Raina and Irfan. "Raina batted really well and [there was] good support from Irfan as well," Jayawardene said. "You needed another guy to go along with that. He is a quality player. If you give him an opportunity the way we did, he will finish the game off so credit to him."

Jayawardene said he could have tried bowling a spinner at the death in hindsight but wasn't sure about it with some dew around. "I felt that the spinners may not get any grip, the fast bowlers were struggling a bit as well so that's something I probably think [in] hindsight [but] at that particular moment I felt the quicks were bowling well. Still we had an opportunity [but] we dropped a catch and [missed] a couple of those run outs. Few edges [went for runs], that's how the game goes. Any other day things would have turned around in our favour but today they played some good cricket aswell. Those two [Raina and Irfan] batted really well, they put on 92 runs in that situation. They deserved to win."

Abhishek Purohit is an editorial assistant at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Fahad on July 31, 2012, 12:37 GMT

    Yeah, one time good finish becomes art. What a joke.

  • sachit on July 31, 2012, 7:48 GMT

    @Prafulla Surve - I do not deny India have had the upper hand against SL in head-to-head contests of late. My point is that the team according to 'kavindeven' is so hopeless that "ICC should only Give Bangladesh or Ireland to play with Sri Lanka" has a habit of thoroughly embarrassing the 'World Champs' and bowling them out for paltry scores, despite having "greats" like Raina in the team. Check this scorecard out :

    btw, talking about not-making the finals, anyone remember CB Series in Australia this year?

  • sudharsan on July 31, 2012, 6:17 GMT

    @drjustinrobert, u missed out Rohit in ur list. As per gambhir few days back, he was in plans for 2015 WC. Just for fun :)

  • Dummy4 on July 31, 2012, 4:53 GMT

    @SachTLG, Yeah, and that's 12 years back. After that, too many things have changed. Indian team has changed a lot. After that, don't forget India beat the same Sri Lanka in world Cup final and beating them in their home now. When was the last time SL won 2 matches in a bilateral ODI series in India? Not since 2000 for sure. So forget the past, come back to present.

    Also, in recent months, din't they lose all matches in Asia cup? Agreed India could not reach final but at least they beat SL and Pakistan while SL lost all matches.

  • sachit on July 31, 2012, 3:22 GMT

    @wonderstar1 - Ok so, did the rest of India's celebrated batting line up also get out to inside edges at Hambantota ? Or do the world champions rely entirely on Raina and Rohith Sharma?

  • Amal on July 31, 2012, 3:21 GMT

    @Kavindeven, MJ is not making excuses. Read the article to the end. "Raina batted really well and [there was] good support from Irfan as well," Jayawardene said. "You needed another guy to go along with that. He is a quality player. If you give him an opportunity the way we did, he will finish the game off so credit to him." / today they played some good cricket aswell. Those two [Raina and Irfan] batted really well, they put on 92 runs in that situation. They deserved to win." What else you wanted MJ to say? And I would like to request to read MSD's media conference after 2nd ODI. If you drag SL to the level of Bangladesh or Ireland (no disrespect to those team at all from me), India should not go for a nail biter. Having said that, As a SL fan, I respect all balanced commenters from IND and love reading constructive comments from them.

  • sachit on July 31, 2012, 3:19 GMT

    @Eat_sleep_play_cricket - I guess it hurts even more to be knowing that the so called 'hopeless' sri lanka who are in the same level as Bangla and Ireland bowled out the 'worlds best batting line up' for 54 on a belter of a pitch at Sharjah - where Jayasuriya alone scored 189. My my even "SRT" played in that game right?

  • Shahidullah on July 31, 2012, 2:59 GMT

    Better Than Dhoni??! Haha.. Never.

  • Dummy4 on July 31, 2012, 2:37 GMT

    @George_Matt: Applying same rule, Shane Warne is not at all a good bowler cause he never performed in India.

    And regarding performance, What was Ricky Ponting's performance against India in India in his first two tours. He must have been extremely poor then.

  • Dummy4 on July 31, 2012, 2:32 GMT

    @Greg_smith:Agree. But Bevan is a thing of past. Just because Bevan was good when he was playing, should not people appreciate the current talent? Or are you just sad that this article praises Indian batsman? We all appreciate Brett Lee as a fast bowler and nobody says - ohh! He is just good by Australian standards, real fast bowlers were from West Indies of the past.

    And by the way, Raina is way better than any Australian new-age-middle-order batsman. The current standards of Australia in the middle ordre batting - with the likes of Steven Smith, Forrest - are in fact poorer. Raina is much much better than them. Come on dude, give credit where its due.

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