Raina shapes up to rescue India
Sometimes, the grimness of a situation can make you forget your self-doubt. Sometimes, it can even set you free. When Suresh Raina entered the crime scene littered with evidence left by Devendra Bishoo, India were limping at 69 for 4. Soon, they were reeling at 85 for 6.
The personal context, too, must have pumped in additional pressure. Raina had failed in the ODI series, playing too many big shots too early. If S Badrinath hadn't looked out of sorts in the ODI series, Raina might not even have got a chance. If Rohit Sharma was in the squad for the Tests, he might have played due to his ODI performances. Sabina Park could have felt like a slaughter house but Raina later said he went in with a "blank mind". It seemed unbelievable. The mind wasn't clouded by dark thoughts? His perceived demons were ensnaring our minds; weren't they wreaking havoc inside his? His short-ball problems, his tendency to overdo the "positive" approach and let adrenaline take over are no state secrets. Blank mind? Bah!
There were four bouncers in the first 12 deliveries he faced. Raina ducked, weaved and swayed away from the line of fire. "It was a two-paced pitch but there wasn't as much pace on it as I would have liked," Fidel Edwards said. After that initial probe, West Indies didn't try too many short balls until later in the innings. The ball wasn't seaming much but it was beginning to turn a fair amount. And there was uneven bounce and enormous scoreboard pressure. It was here that Harbhajan Singh helped with his counterattack and Raina began to find his feet.
"I was just looking to bat straight and remain patient and maintain my shape." Shape is a word Raina uses a lot whenever you talk to him about his batting. It refers to his body and head position and the general balance when playing a shot. The first real evidence of that "shape" appeared during the 20th delivery he faced. He had hit a four - a drive through cover point - before that, but it didn't have the same class as the next one. It was a tossed up delivery outside off and Raina glided forward and leaned fully into the drive through extra cover. It's his signature shot when he is in good flow.
Often, in limited-overs games, Raina starts to attack through midwicket. Today, he showed patience. Perhaps, Bishoo was losing his. "He was tossing it up and getting it to turn against the right-hand batsmen. But for left-hand batsmen, he thought he would be taken over covers or midwicket. I just remained patient and wanted to play as straight as possible."
The test of that patience came shortly after that boundary. Darren Sammy removed Bishoo and brought himself on along with Ravi Rampaul. Raina added just one run in 20 deliveries. There were 15 dot balls when he was stuck on 25. In the world of Raina, that's too many. He is no Rahul Dravid. An edged boundary and a punched cut of Sammy lessened the claustrophobia somewhat. What was he feeling then?
"I told myself just hang in there. Be patient. You have to watch the hands of bowler. Rampaul was reversing. Your mind has to be clear. If you are looking to drive along the ground, your shape doesn't get affected." That word shape, again.
In the middle, Sammy brought back Bishoo. Raina pulled a short ball to the backward square-leg boundary. Sammy gave himself one extra over. Raina drove him through mid-off and back past Harbhajan for successive fours. Bishoo tempted him with a flighted delivery but Raina dealt with it with twinkling feet. Again, it went through wide mid-off.
Raina's run chart showed signs of a disciplined mind. Barring an uncontrolled cut boundary against Edwards early in his knock, it wasn't until he reached 70 that he hit another four against the quicker bowlers. Even then, the ball dictated the shot. He slashed a short and wide delivery from Ravi Rampaul after tea, followed by a silken straight drive against the same bowler. It was almost as if he had tattooed two phrases on his brain: drive straight and maintain shape. And by doing that he saved Indian innings from going completely pear-shaped. Maybe he did go in with a blank mind after all.
Sriram Veera is a staff writer at ESPNcricinfo