IT WAS IN BANGLADESH, three months ago, that Suresh Raina last played an international match. It was the end of a long and tough season for Team India and the newly married Indian batsman finally got some personal time off.
Raina utilised this period to rejuvenate and hone his skills for the season coming up. He trained in Amsterdam with the Dutch cricket team and indulged in fitness drills and meditation. He got back on the cricket field for the three one-dayers between India ‘A’ and Bangladesh ‘A’, and after two low scores, helped India ‘A’ clinch the series with a knock of 104.
As he prepares for the T20I and ODI series against South Africa with Team India in Bengaluru, Raina spoke to BCCI.TV about the work he put into his game during the break. He also spoke at length about his position in the Indian batting order and the challenges that come in with batting at No. 5 and 6.
The South Africa series is upon us. How crucial was the India ‘A’ one-day series for you in terms of match practice?
I am thankful to the BCCI and the selectors for picking me to play in this series. I have done a lot of batting in the nets in the last two months, in Noida, Meerut (in Uttar Pradesh’s Ranji Trophy camp) and Netherlands, but could not get a lot of match practice. After all this training, what I really needed was some match practice before going into the South Africa series. These three one-day games were perfect for that. Getting a century in the last match was crucial for me in getting my batting rhythm.
The best thing about playing the ‘A’ series was that I got a chance to interact with Rahul Dravid on my batting and mindset. I have played under him, got my ODI and Test caps from him and he has seen me very closely for years. Most of my conversations with him were about the mental aspect of the game.
You have known him (Rahul Dravid) closely as a player and captain. How was having him as a coach?
He was very keen to get the best out of all the boys. His involvement was unbelievable. He was always there, giving catches, talking to players and offering valuable insights on skill and technique. After watching him play for all these years and playing with him, when I saw him as a coach, I saw that nothing has changed. The dedication is intact as ever and he still works really hard in the gym on his fitness.
You had a long, nice break of a couple of months and you spent some time in Amsterdam, practising and working on your fitness. Talk about that.
I spent quality time with my wife and in-laws. I was in a relaxed mode and at the same time was focused on my game and fitness. I practised with the Dutch cricket team in Amsterdam at their camp and faced a lot of quality bowlers in the nets. I spent a lot of time polishing my fielding skills – taking catches at point. I also did meditation and yoga, a lot of running in the park and cycling.
The kind of routine I had there, helped me stay relaxed mentally and active physically. I spent a lot of time with the Dutch team, going to barbeques, playing football and hockey.
It was a crucial break for me because after my marriage, I had hardly got to spend any time with my wife. It makes a lot of difference; puts you in a happy mental space. I am lucky that Priyanka leads a very active lifestyle herself. She would wake me up in the morning and say, ‘let’s go to the gym’ or ‘let’s go cycling or a run’. Having that motivation from your partner makes the workouts more fun.
As I relaxed, I also started to think clearly about my game. I recalled all the time spent with my team mates and all the victories we celebrated. That has made me hungry to go back on the field and play. I am well and truly prepared to face South Africa.
Talking about the SA series and Team India’s combination, MS Dhoni said in Bangladesh that it is time he bats at 4 regularly and use your experience as a finisher until we groom someone else for the role. How do you see that as a responsibility?
No.5 and 6 are not easy positions to bat at. You go out there and have to score 15 runs in five balls or 50 in 20 balls. At home I might not get a chance to bat, might get 10-15 overs or only 10 balls. But I am prepared for it. I know what my role is. I have batted everywhere except the opening positions, so I know how to bat where. I enjoy that responsibility. MS knows my game inside out and I would be happy to play whatever role he deems is right for me.
Also, if MS decides to bat at 4 regularly, it will only benefit the team. It will make life easier for the batsmen to follow. He can build the innings with the top-order and accelerate with the lower-middle order.
You have had many partnerships with him and you learned the art of finishing innings and matches under him. In this case, you will be the senior partner and guide the one batting with you at the end of the innings. Does that sound exciting?
Yes. It is a position that comes with a lot of pressure. You don’t get regular chances to bat long and even then if you don’t score big in three games, there is pressure from everywhere. I know how it feels. At the beginning of my career, I did more fielding than batting. You should learn how to cope with that and at the same time go and hit sixes when your chance finally comes. There is a lot of risk management involved in this role. Whoever we groom for the role from now on, I will do my best to help him cope with these aspects.
Team India is in a phase where the batting-order is very flexible. There are no fixed positions. That means every batsman has to be versatile enough to adapt to the slot given to him?
True. This is a challenging time. Many batsmen will not get their favourite batting positions in the time to come. We saw that in the Sri Lanka Test series as well. But the boys don’t mind it because the culture of the current team is moulded in such a way that personal milestones are no more important. It is the end result in the favour of the team that counts.
If a batsman gets 15 runs off five balls and it helps take the scoreboard pressure off, his contribution will be appreciated in this team. Ravi (Shastri) bhai is very smart in this regards.