<
>

Raina gets a tune up ahead of SA series

Suresh Raina struck five fours and two sixes during his 62 BCCI

Suresh Raina has seen more ups and downs than a bumpy old road. He made the 2005-06 season crackle - 620 runs in 10 innings at the Ranji Trophy - and went on to make his international debut. He got both his Test and ODI caps from his hero Rahul Dravid. Ten years on, Raina has 280 international matches to his name, but is yet to cement his place as a full-fledged match-winner.

Currently he has to split his attention between being a senior batsman for India A, who face a strong Bangladesh A in Bangalore from Wednesday and getting match-ready for an important series against South Africa in October.

Raina hasn't played top-flight cricket since June. He had trained on synthetic pitches at the Amsterdam Cricket Club in the Netherlands last month, but with a hectic home season due to begin, he has the support of his former India captain and now India A coach Dravid to come good.

"Obviously for Raina this series is a preparation for the series against South Africa," Dravid said. "He hasn't had a lot of cricket and this is an opportunity for him to get back to the groove. I will try to give him as much batting opportunity as I possibly can. He will bat higher than he bats for India. We do feel that he is a very important player and he needs to get as much batting time as possible."

Raina has 1221 runs at a decent average of 37 at Nos. 3 and 4 in ODI cricket. But he was unable to shape an innings as evidenced by a solitary century out of 37 tries.

There was merit in wanting to plumb his ability to score quickly. He also has a knack for finding gaps, running hard and keeping dot balls to a minimum. But 'Project Raina' did not yield the kind of success it was expected to. He was overlooked for the Asia Cup in 2014 but came back as India captain for the Bangladesh tour because most of the senior players were rested and then lent a much-needed reminder of his worth scoring his first century outside the subcontinent against England in Cardiff.

That innings of 100 off 75 balls came at No. 5 and it is there or lower Raina will stay for India. He scored a World Cup century at that position too against Zimbabwe. With a brittle lower-middle order and MS Dhoni preferring to bat higher to try and control the innings better, Raina has to work as a finisher in limited-overs cricket now. The ball would likely be old by then. It wouldn't bounce as high or move around as much. So both of Raina's issues - tentative on the pull and eager to chase outside off - do not haunt him as much.

Raina is known for timely cameos. He does not mind floating up and down the batting order if the team needs it. He pitches in with some offspin and is quicker than the flash in the field. He has also led India in 12 ODIs and 3 T20s. With the South Africa series looming, an Australia tour in January and a World T20 to follow, Raina will want to unlock the big match-winner in him.