Not since Sir Vivian Richards has any batsman been so ruthlessly dismissive of bowlers. True, Suresh Raina is only a limited-overs specialist and can aspire at most to bow before he walks in Viv’s shadow. But then, he has been so astonishingly successful in the one-day arena that he has become something of a cult figure in modern cricket.
When he walked out in the course of his innings in the Champions League final to a dipping full toss that began about waist high and slammed the ball with the sound of a bullet going off somewhere, he resembled Richards in his pomp.It is not the simplest task to hit a full toss over cover for six. Such is the certainty of touch that he is playing the limited-overs game that Raina could toy with the bowling, maybe not always in Viv’s style. But the ring of authority was very similar. If he stepped out on spotting the ball coming up to him, he would loft it with the assurance of a golfer who knew exactly where the green is. Only in Raina’s case, the ball landed up more often in the sight screen, his drives being straight as an arrow.
The lad can bat cagily too. It was not as if he was trying to hit the cover off each delivery. Such mistakes are for those who are yet to graduate to the level of his understanding of the short game. He could judge the length of the turning ball and put it away for a single, or even defend the one he could not really read from the Chinaman bowler. It was an aggressive innings with the right amount of discretion too making it a master effort in this format.
The feeling gained in seeing his century on Test debut in Sri Lanka was here is a one-day guy capable of making his talent relevant in the longer format too. That was not to be. The world’s quick bowlers spotted his weakness against the short pitched ball and used it to pierce his technique. The belief that he could shape up to meet the challenge proved unfounded as his form fell away because of the specific attacks on a part of his armoury.
Not everyone is destined to be the greatest batsman of his time in two formats as Viv Richards was at a time when he was averaging 50 in both Tests and ODIs, but fell away only towards the end when his reflexes started going. It could be said in Raina’s favour that he is capable of dominating two formats out of three even if he could quite master the nuances of Test batsmanship to be able to manage it regardless of technique like his skipper and best friend Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
The pace at which the modern game is played, it is rare to find a batsman who will excel in all three formats. Some like A.B. de Villiers may manage it for a while but, in the long run, they are likely to fall apart in one format or the other. Today’s batsmen have to adapt to the wild swings of fortune in T20 cricket as well as in the ODIs where they can at least catch their breath and save their aggression for patches of acceleration before the blitz in the end overs.
It is interesting that Ravi Shastri should think he can sort out the technical glitches and make Raina a Test batsman. Maybe, he can succeed to the extent of making him a force in home Tests where his technique won’t be tested so much. Would you bet on his being a major Test force beyond these shores? — Maybe not. Even so, it is worth a try because such aggressive batsmen can change the course of a match in a couple of sessions. Aggression is the modern batsmen’s forte and Raina is the embodiment of it in the shortest format now.