Suresh Raina, the biggest what-if in Indian cricket

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06 Sep 2022 | 12:19 PM
authorAakash Sivasubramaniam

Suresh Raina, the biggest what-if in Indian cricket

At the age of 35, the all-rounder calls time on an illustrious career

Suresh Raina is everything that you could ask from a player. Forget the numbers, forget the accolades, forget the loyalty factor, his presence on the field is viral. An able batsman, a handy bowler and a bullet fielder, what more can one expect in a cricketer?

He is the first man to celebrate with a bowler, he is the first to run across the yard to congratulate a fielder, he is the first to be involved in a celebration. Raina’s energy on the field is infectious and is so likeable as a team-man. Ten years down the line, it won’t be the numbers that define the left-hander from Uttar Pradesh. 

Throughout his playing career, the 35-year-old has been associated with several cameos, stunning catches and more importantly, the celebrations. He is Chennai’s Chinna Thala, he is India’s T20 legend and a G.O.A.T in the Indian Premier League. The fact that he is trending on Twitter despite his last appearance coming on October 2, 2021, paints the perfect picture possible.

But there is a catch. There is a sense of unfulfillment that will always surround the left-hander, wherever he goes. Even though he was at an all-time low during the 2021 IPL, CSK fans were furious with the franchise on not retaining him for the 2022 season. It isn’t unfair to say that he was always MS Dhoni’s understudy in Chennai. 

For the longest time, Chennai fans were pretty confident that Chinna Thala would take over from Thala once the latter decides to retire from all formats of the game. The cordial relationship between the two was such that they were almost inseparable, one was known with the other. It was only natural that both of them decided to announce their international retirement together. 

Raina could have been the best Indian all-rounder, could have been a skipper, could have played for a long time in Indian colours but his fitness, commitment and the vulnerability against short-ball perhaps curtailed his career. 

Despite all of that, the fact that the left-hander would go down in the history as one of India’s best in the shortest format perhaps is a fitting tribute to his career. Dhoni knew how to get the best out of Raina and his IPL numbers are a testimony of his talent. When down short on an off-spinner, the CSK skipper always relied on the Uttar Pradesh man to roll down his arm. 

When the scoring rate was a massive struggle against spinners, it was Raina’s launch-pad to success. And when the team desperately needed a fielder to pull their sock up, there was Raina yet again, flying across like an eagle at the peak of its flight. 

Describing the left-hander is quite a tough task. 

For some, he was more than just cricket, for some, he was just a struggling batter against short-ball and for the others, he was their inspiration. Personally, growing up in Chennai, watching the Super Kings dominate the opposition, Raina was perhaps an emotion. An emotion that is quite tough to put in words. His impact on the league is and never be overstated. 

Raina is a bonafide IPL legend. Ten years down the line, imagine this, you will never find a player as loyal, fierce and consistent as the 35-year-old. Nine seasons of 400+ runs, the left-hander’s numbers are, at the moment unmatchable. Imagine this, even the peak of Virat Kohli can’t match the accolades of the left-hander, that is the legacy that he will bow down with in his career. 

While he might have just scored the one century throughout his IPL career, his 39 half-centuries will be a record on its own. His impact was always instantaneous, ask the Royal Challengers Bangalore or the Kolkata Knight Riders for e.g. Every time he walked out to bat, there was this sort of expectation that surrounded him, one where he is expected to fire both with the bat and the ball. 

Even though his apparent weakness – short-ball – is always around the corner, the confidence that he possesses is perhaps unrivalled. And against the spinners, even facing the best of them, like Sunil Narine, the left-hander averages 59 and strikes at 135.6. Raina often triggered the fear in the opponents. 

Raina is a trend-setter, be it in terms of being the first Indian to score a hundred across the formats or being the only Indian with a hundred in ODIs, T20Is, Tests, IPL, CLT20, making him a benchmark for the budding cricketers. 

And, personally, having seen Raina blossom in the Chennai yellow, it is a memory of a lifetime. He is one cricketer that is more than life, on and off the field. His influence in the yellow is perhaps even bigger than MS Dhoni’s leadership. 

Raina’s IPL career will and should be celebrated for all the right reasons. His life will be the biggest what-if but his career will nevertheless be celebrated as one of the best. All of this at the age of 35 only makes it bitter-sweet.

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