An integral part of India’s limited-overs team under Mahendra Singh Dhoni, life came to a sudden standstill for Raina in August 2017 when news came in that current skipper Kohli had made passing the Yo-Yo test a compulsion and the left-hander had failed to clear the benchmark of 16.1. Raina was ignored for the tour of Sri Lanka.
It could have been easy for the southpaw to give up, having already played 223 ODIs for India and over 50 T20Is. At 30, he wasn’t even getting any younger. But, what followed was hours of training sessions and the urge to prove detractors that he still had it in him to challenge the best in the business. After all, he was one of the pioneers of saving those extra runs with his lightning fielding that Dhoni so relied on.
In fact, such was his resilience that while he would never refuse a chat, he clearly told this reporter – during the initial stages of the Ranji Trophy season in 2017 — that an important season was on and he didn’t wish to speak at this stage. “Can we talk after a few games?” came his reply. Clearly, he meant business. The customary 'Thanks brother for the support' replies followed there on.
And in December, Raina finally managed to show the results for his hardwork as he cleared the now compulsory fitness test. "Cleared my Yo-Yo & fitness test today, after days of hard work at #NCA! Received tremendous support from all the trainers, coaches & officials. Thank you all! It’s always so encouraging to train here at #NCA, motivates me to push my limits and bring the best out of me," he posted on his Intstagram account.
Replying to a congratulatory message from this reporter, Raina said he was happy to have seen his hardwork get the desired result. Battling it out against critics was never new to him as he has had pundits calling him a dead duck against short-pitched bowling from the start of his career. But to see his own teammates considering him unfit to be a part of the squad had hurt him and that saw him spend hours working on his fitness in the gym and outdoors. What followed was an immediate call-up to the team for the T20I series in South Africa.
Speaking to CricketNext in South Africa during the Test series, a member in the team management had said that a fit Raina could well be a vital cog in the India team when it plays the 2019 World Cup in England. After all, he has been part of numerous tours of England and has scored runs there. “See, with someone as experienced as Raina, it is all about keeping fit and staying in shape. You don’t teach someone who has played over 200 ODIs how to bat at the international level. The upcoming T20Is against South Africa will be a good test for him now that he has proven his fitness. If he can show form and fitness, he could well be a vital part of the World Cup squad. You cannot buy experience that someone like Raina brings into the set-up,” he said.
Even though Raina managed just 15, 31 and 43 in the three T20Is against South Africa, he looked a completely different player in Cape Town during his knock of 43 than in Johannesburg when he looked tense and jittery during his knock of 15. Clearly, the nerves had settled down and the belief that he belonged at the international level was back.
What followed was 445 runs for champions Chennai Super Kings in this edition of the Indian Premier League with four fifties at a strike-rate of 132.44. And clearly, Raina had sounded the warning bells to his detractors that version 2.0 is not just swifter, but equally destructive.
First Published: June 17, 2018, 12:14 PM IST