Sriram Veera is a staff writer at Cricinfo
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It wasn't a match-winning knock, it certainly wasn't a great innings but it is an effort that Suresh Raina won't forget in a hurry. The match situation and his troubles in the recent past provided the context to make it an interesting innings to watch. Raina has been a marked man recently, slowly slipping towards anonymity even as another young man Virat Kohli was stealing the thunder. Nothing has gone right for Raina ever since the Twenty20 World Cup when he was grounded by the bouncers. Word caught on and even domestic bowlers started to serve the short stuff. Humiliation was at his door step. Raina went for advice to the likes of Rahul Dravid, sought out Gary Kirsten, faced throw-downs, faced balls blasted from tennis racquets, but it is not an ailment that vanishes overnight.
Even today, his start wasn't promising. He kept going back even as the bowlers kept it full and it seemed like he was expecting the short stuff - may be this one will be a short, may be this, surely this will rear up at least? It was almost painful to see the otherwise gorgeously fluent batsman retreat deep inside the crease on a flat track as if he expected a bouncer every ball. He looked a like a man walking the Green Mile.
And there were curious little brain-freezes from time to time that made you question his temperament. Off the ninth ball he faced, he went for an ambitious shot, that had more than a tinge of desperation to it, and would have been caught had mid-off not be stationed slightly wide. India were 63 for 5 then. If it was an attempted counter-punch, it was a very lame one, something that was borne out of hope rather than conviction. Clarity of thought seemed to be missing as he teased short cover a couple of times with uppish push-drives. It was around this point that Sri Lanka should have tightened the noose but they failed to and Raina effected the jail-break. Sri Lanka ran out of steam, they pulled back, the bowling definitely lost sting and they let the game drift away. Raina went on to seize the day.
Sri Lanka bowled less than five short deliveries at him through the innings. Only one climbed to a potentially disconcerting height. Perhaps the pitch wasn't conducive; perhaps they wanted to hurt him with the thought of bouncers rather than actually unleashing them on him and perhaps, the bowlers were spent after the initial burst. Slowly but surely, Raina started to look the part.
Even that signature shot over cover returned. In international cricket today, only Herschelle Gibbs' hit over cover comes close to Raina's but though Gibbs' strike matches his in brutality, it lags behind, slightly, in beauty. It is a shot that shows that all is well in the world of Raina. It means he is not thinking about the short one, it means the weight transfer to the front foot has been completed quickly and confidently, and it means that the bat-swing has come through without any self-doubt lurking in the back of the brain. It is a here-and-now shot. The toughest bouncer of the day arrived almost immediately but by then Raina had turned the corner; the short-pitched lifter was upper-cut to the third-man boundary, the fifty was brought up, and Raina had turned the clock back to his good days.
He lofted and swept Suraj Randiv for boundaries, played a delightful inside-out lofted cover drive against the same bowler, and sent Chanaka Welegedera to the cover boundary. The hundred came up and he celebrated with a hop, skip and jump for joy routine. It was a special moment for someone who had been haunted by his short-comings in the recent past.