With so much cricket played these days it is often difficult to keep track of who is who and what they are doing. In this weekly feature Cricinfo will take a look at one player who is making the news, whether at the highest level or an aspiring talent, and tell you what they are all about. This week, it's the turn of Indian batsman Suresh Raina
The time is ripe to be a young, fledging cricketer in India. With a few senior pros on the wane and a selection policy with its emphasis on youth, plenty of far-fetched dreams have come true. A player like Suresh Raina would've had to pinch himself more than once, slipping into India colours at the age of 18.
A compact, left-hand middle-order batsman, Raina is another from the assembly line of small-town cricketers that India seems to be churning out in plenty. His neat stance camouflages his aggressive instincts and his strokeplay blends textbook-like technique with flamboyance. Essentially a one-day specialist, his allround credentials make him a valuable asset, given his excellent fielding skills and miserly offspin bowling. Having played 14 ODIs till date, it's ironic that his appearances at the crease have been sporadic, but the opportunities he's had have revealed glimpses of what he's capable of. His ascendancy wasn't based entirely on raw, prodigious talent, but it also owed much to single-minded commitment and determination from a young age.
The youngest of five children, Raina hails from Ghaziabad, a small town in Uttar Pradesh, in the vicinity of New Delhi. Fortunately, he belonged to a state which facilitated the ambitions of budding sportsmen through its government-run sports colleges and hostels. He opted to take cricket seriously in 1999 and joined the Sports College in Lucknow, the state capital. The decision to move to the Sports Hostel was a hard one, and convincing his parents wasn't easy.
Battling homesickness with the help of his seniors, Raina settled into the regimented schedule of the hostel, squeezing in regular school hours apart from rigorous training and practice. The threat of suspension looming over all those who fail to make the grade egged him on, and his double-hundreds in junior tournaments started his progression, as he captained the Uttar Pradesh Under-16 team. He toured with the Under-17 team to Sri Lanka and later with the Under-19 side to England. His debut season for UP in the Ranji Trophy in 2002-03 was restricted to just one game but he sealed his berth for the subsequent season with impressive displays in both forms of the game.
The turning point was the Under-19 World Cup in 2004, when he was part of India's emerging brigade. It included a whirlwind 90 not out off 38 balls against Scotland, but he rates his innings against West Indies even higher, scoring 66 under pressure and taking two wickets to claim the Man-of-the-Match award. He was rewarded a scholarship to train at the Australian Cricket Academy in Adelaide under the Border-Gavaskar scholarship, and that stint enhanced his back-foot play. He followed it up with successful outings in the Deodhar Trophy and league cricket in Lancashire, which led to a call up to the national side for the tri-series in Sri Lanka in July 2005.
His rather rude awakening to the rigours of international cricket came at Dambulla, facing Muttiah Muralitharan on a sluggish pitch. He was completely squared up by a doosra, caught in two minds whether to play forward or back, registering a golden duck. There was an air of sympathy when he walked back, given the bowler that he had faced. He made amends a few hours later in the field, affecting a brilliant run-out from midwicket with only a single stump to aim at.
Rarely used as a spinner, his role in the side was largely restricted to that of a Supersub. His cameo knocks, particularly his 39 not out at Pune against Sri Lanka have come at over a run-a-ball with some delightful strokes all round the wicket.
At first glance, his presence at the crease shows a sense of assuredness and maturity that is remarkable given his limited experience. His selection for the Test squad against England was proof that he is among the next in line to be blooded into a batting line-up which seemed so impenetrable in the past.
Tours England with the U-19 squad. Scores two half-centuries in the four-day games.
Tours Sri Lanka with the U-17 squad
Ranji Trophy debut. - Assam vs UP. Plays only one first-class game that season.
Tours Pakistan for the Asian U-19s tournament.
ICC U-19 World Cup in Bangladesh.Scores three half-centuries and finishes with a healthy strike rate of 90.80.
List A debut - UP v Madhya Pradesh in the Ranji Trophy one-day tournament. Scores 94 on debut in the Deodhar Trophy in the same month. Enjoys a good season in domestic limited overs games, aggregating 645 runs in 15 matches at 53.75.
Plays for Astley & Tyldesley Cricket Club in the Lancashire League. Amasses 865 runs in 12 matches and also bags 32 wickets.
Selected for Board President's XI against Pakistan at Dharmasala
ODI debut against Sri Lanka at Dambulla
2005-06 Ranji Trophy
Instrumental in helping UP take the title, scoring 620 runs in six games.
What he says
"When I see the likes of Rahul bhai, Sachin bhai, Kaif and Yuvi bhai doing well, I feel responsible as well. So I motivate myself by thinking that performing under pressure will help me later"
What they say about him - Rajinder Singh Hans, Uttar Pradesh coach
Suresh Raina is a complete batsman. He was easily one of the best on the domestic circuit this season. He is naturally talented, athletic, and a very enthusiastic cricketer. When he joined us, we were not really doing well, but his youthful exuberance motivated others around him too.
What you may not know about him
In his spare time, Raina likes listening to the songs of Jagjit Singh and Sonu Nigam. Besides cricket, he is also fond of pool, basketball and tennis. He is a fan of Maria Sharapova, both for her looks as well as her game, and admires Andy Roddick for his attitude. He is also a student of economics and sociology at Lucknow.