Raina sets eyes on 2019 World Cup with international return

Suresh Raina plays a pull shot Associated Press

Suresh Raina, the middle-order batsman selected in India's squad for the T20Is against South Africa, believes the upcoming matches will be a vital series for him as he makes an international comeback after over a year. For the long run, Raina also set his eyes on the 50-over World Cup next year, saying regular performances across the next few months could help him come back into India's ODI team.

In an interview with India Today, Raina was asked if the T20s against South Africa would be a "do-or-die series" for him and he said: "Definitely. It feels like I've been selected to the Indian team for the first time. I have worked hard for the past two years, so when I saw my India jersey I felt a bit emotional that I got the jersey after quite a while. Like you said, the three games will be quite important. I have done well in whatever opportunities I have got [recently].

"These T20 matches are important, then Bangladesh [T20 tri-series] and then IPL. Fifty-overs does need experience - it makes a lot of difference. Because this position is such, that you'll come to bat when the team is in trouble."

Raina also specified that his preferred position in the team would be Nos. 4 or 5, slots which, Raina felt, will allow India's left-hand right-hand combination to thrive.

"If given a choice, I can do best at No. 4 or No. 5," he stated. "There are five fielders inside these days, so a left-hand, right-hand combination is very useful these days. If I do well in these three games, then I'm certain I can make an ODI return too."

Raina, who made his ODI and T20I debuts in 2005 and 2006, was a consistent member of India's limited-overs teams until he was dropped for the Australia tour in December 2015 following a string of low scores. He was kept out of India's tour of the USA in 2016 - for matches against West Indies - before making a brief return next year. In January 2017, he scored 34, 7 and 63 in three home T20Is against England but then missed subsequent matches in the same format in the West Indies and Sri Lanka, and at home against Australia, New Zealand and Sri Lanka. Raina said that his morale was "down" when he was dropped, but he picked himself up soon after in a bid to return to the international squad.

"I was quite down because I wasn't playing," Raina said. "Plus, I wasn't sure why I wasn't playing. I had made a fifty [53] against South Africa, but after that nothing happened. I thought to myself, 'I'm not giving up, [I] want to play for the country, and [I] want to play with all my heart."

Raina put down his failing of a yo-yo test - during New Zealand's tour of India - to too much game time at that point.

"See, in the middle I was playing a lot," Raina explained on why he failed the test back then. "Virat [Kohli] had set some parameters, and when I did the yo-yo test at the NCA 10 days ago, my speed was among the top five or six. I've always been fit, and I am fit now, but sometimes one needs time to recover."

Over the past domestic season, Raina finished as the sixth-highest run-scorer at the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy - India's domestic T20 tournament - with 314 runs in nine matches at a strike-rate of 146, including knocks of 126*, 61 and 56 against Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Baroda.

Raina was also keen to position himself as a player who could play multiple roles by bowling a few overs, something he did consistently in ODIs from 2011 to 2015. "I am also prepared to bowl three-four overs," he said. "My shoulder is solid too. You see, you need to chip in, bowl well, field well, so that the captain feels 'yeah, this fellow is a utility player at No. 4-5'".

Raina also suggested MS Dhoni should take the No. 4 slot to help the inexperienced middle order, a problem they have been struggling with in ODIs.

"You see Dhoni batting below, he should come up and bat more so that he gets more time to settle," Raina said. "Now that Yuvraj [Singh] and I aren't there, he should come and play above, so that those playing below him will also get experienced. If MS is batting on top, then he'll keep the run rate high. If Mahi bats at No. 4, then all those below him will gain priceless experience.

"Earlier, Yuvraj would hit fours and sixes at No. 4, then I'd come at No. 5, and Mahi would finish at No. 6 - so our roles were settled thanks to [former coach] Gary Kirsten."