When we think about India’s World Cup-winning campaign in 2011, the first image that pops into our heads is that of MS Dhoni hitting that six. That is followed by the memories of a brilliant 97 by Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh winning the Man of the Tournament, Sachin lifting the trophy.
Most people even remember Sehwag opening his account with boundaries and Zaheer Khan giving away just 6 runs in his first 5 overs in the final.
What people often miss, however, is Suresh Raina’s brilliance against Australia and Pakistan.
India went into the WC with Yusuf Pathan as the designated finisher. With Dhoni out of form throughout the tournament and Pathan’s one-dimensional style of play not working out, India would easily collapse after promising starts. That’s how we didn’t put enough onboard against England and that’s how we lost against South Africa. We got lucky against WI but that was all Yuvraj.
India had a huge problem on their hands. If by chance the top order failed, there was nobody to save the day. And unlike WI, Australia wouldn’t have been so charitable, especially in the quarter-finals.
By this time, everyone in world cricket knew Geoffrey Boycott’s nan could play the short ball better than Raina. And yet, here he was, India’s last line of defence against an in form Australian side and our failing batting order.
Chasing 262 on a tough track, India had just lost Dhoni for 7 runs. Enter Suresh Raina…
Raina, along with Yuvraj added 74 runs to take India home. Raina faced bouncers from Lee, Johson and Tait. And yet, he persevered and added 34 off 28 balls to make sure India was facing Pakistan in the semis.
India’s fate against Pakistan was no different. A scratchy Sachin had been dismissed after scoring 85. Dhoni followed soon after.
The Indian tail was never known to wag for too long but Raina held one end and kept ticking the score. India ended up with a respectable 260 on board and eventually won the game by 29 runs.
Raina had scored 36 runs that day.
These two innings are, in a manner of speaking a map through Suresh Raina’s international career.
Raina was the ultimate team man. He would be diving around the boundary saving runs spending the first 20 overs inside the 30-yard-circle doing the exact same thing. And more often than not, he would convert half chances and change the course of the game. And he would make it look easy.
Not just that, would be running to point to tap a colleague on the back for making an excellent save. He would be vocal, encouraging everyone around him to just do better.
A majority of Suresh Raina’s carer ran parallel with Dhoni. So it is natural to be overshadowed by the greatest finisher of all time.
But Suresh Raina mattered. His 20s and 30s mattered more than we could imagine. More often than not he would have to come bat with 10 runs required every over and 8 out of 10 times, he would be the reason, India would cross the finish line.
Now, that doesn’t mean he didn’t score big.
Suresh Raina is the first Indian cricketer to score a T20 century. He also has a Test century on debut. In the 226 ODIs he played, the crafty southpaw scored 5 centuries and 36 half-centuries with a strike rate of 93.
Every time Raina was in the field, there was a quiet buzz in the crowd for they never knew which one would be slogged over the cow corner. You never knew which ball could be plucked out of thin air. That’s just how exciting a player Raina was.
Raina won’t be remembered as one of the all-time greats. But Indian fans will remember him. We will remember his almost child-like enthusiasm on a cricket field and his dying commitment to winning.