When India came out to train for the first time after their demoralising three-day defeat in the fifth Test, Lord's welcomed them with cold weather. All eyes were on the new team director Ravi Shastri and support staff, but well before everyone came out, Suresh Raina was in the middle taking catches. Raina is usually an enthusiastic soul, but this Raina had had a bit of a break, a bit of a heartbreak too, after being dropped from the ODI side and was even keener. More sorted, was his assessment. He said the axe hurt him a lot and all but said that that break actually helped him a lot too. He has scored a hundred in his first innings here, but he will have to make sure this is the first of a few.
When asked what particular changes he might have made to his game in the time spent outside the team, Raina said, "Changes are mostly mental. When you are playing so much continuous international cricket, you don't realise what weaknesses have crept into your game. Then when you sit alone you analyse your game, you meet your seniors. They all have an opinion, you pick the best ones from them. They have helped me a lot.
"I would say you also become a better person. You spend time with your family, with your loved ones, and they nudge you into the right direction. Cricket is a passion for me. I have always enjoyed playing cricket. I am always on a different energy level when I play. I have always been positive. But during this time I discussed small little things with my coaches. Small things that you don't realise have crept into your game. Did a lot of video analysis. Saw my graphs. Made the changes. Feels good now. Hopefully I can continue this."
What exactly did he work on? Raina said it was mostly the mental aspect of converting the 30s and the 40s into big innings. "I analysed a lot after I was dropped," he said. "I was hurt. It was frustrating that I had enough scores of 30-40, but wasn't converting those. I was batting well, everything was going right, but I wasn't converting those. Then I went to domestic cricket, did well in the IPL.
"Trained a lot in Bombay. Praveen Amre has been working with me for a long time. Sachin Tendulkar would also come there sometimes. Spoke to Sourav Ganguly also. Discussed for two-three months as to how I can improve in overseas conditions. I improved as a person. The hunger inside grew. I realised the extent of competition, and at the same time you are a senior batsman so there is extra responsibility. I have improved my concentration a lot."
That unwittingly raises a point about the schedules, for India players will not openly criticise them. And this is coming from a player who has been on the international scene for nine years, although it is hard to tell with Raina, who is hoping once again that this innings will begin a turnaround that gives him a settled role in the side. Raina says he likes No. 5, and that he has worked towards getting better at it.
"At No. 5 you can control the game," Raina said. "Over the last eight-nine years, I have played at all spots. I have usually had MS [Dhoni] batting with me. I have learnt a lot while batting with him. At CSK, I had Michael Hussey to bat with. Have worked a lot with lefties. Here I have Duncan Fletcher. Stephen Fleming [the Chennai Super Kings coach] is also leftie. Gary [Kirsten] too. Have spent a lot of time talking to Gautam [Gambhir], when I was in Delhi during this break.
"No. 5 is a challenging position. You can control the game from there, at the same time you have high responsibility. You know that after Dhoni and [Ravindra] Jadeja, you don't have much batting. Over the years I have learnt how to bat with the tail. The two innings that I played in the World Cup, they were with the tail. There, I began to believe I can put together good partnerships with the tail. That there is no need to play rash shots with the tail. I have improved slowly."
The two innings he spoke about were his 34 not out and 36 not out in the quarter-final and semi-final. The quarter-final runs were scored alongside Yuvraj Singh. Raina can be forgiven such slips of memory if he keeps scoring hundreds of the quality of Cardiff.