The protagonist’s role in every fable sets out seeking the brightest spot of glory. Those tales that bloom out as if they were the masters of success inevitably have us admiring them. Those that never take off, never bother us, but there are some that have all the makings of an incredible story and all the ability to become legends but fall inexplicably and frustratingly into the swamp of mediocrity. They never seem too far from success to be given up on, but rarely are conveniently and comfortably placed to enjoy a sustained stint there.
In the midst of irrelevant leagues and compulsive tourneys, many a wonderful cricketer fall by the way side – often tumbling away into relegation, leaving themselves no chance of getting back on the bandwagon that they once rode with a sense of belonging and ownership. When somebody sees such occurrences with unfailing regularity and when failure on the professional front threatens his career too, it is unrealistic to expect him to treat self-doubt and the fear of failure with contempt.
Is this an honest summary of where Suresh Raina stands today? As debatable as this is – it is certainly not a figment of somebody’s imagination. At least some of it is real, very real.
Rising through the ranks as a batsman in the Indian cricket team is perhaps the toughest challenge in the sport today and to add consistency to one’s game, once there, demands nothing less than penance. There has to be a career-defining spell or innings before one’s career is decided, brilliance demonstrated with great punctuality to mute the blaring voices of critics and the ability to accept all forms of adulation without losing scruples.
The Suresh Raina we knew, was a master of innovation- quite noticeably with the bat. He would electrify the audience with his new-age strokeplay or with his hurtles between the stumps while ramping up the run rate. He would be blunt in his pursuit of a target and create a comfort zone for himself while batting at the death. Rarely did he get the cushion of time to build a magnificent innings – embellishing them with sensual strokes of the breed of a ravishing beauty. He had to be the last minute push of adrenaline that the innings desperately needed or the lifeguard whose day was made only when the team was rescued. Perhaps the cameo got so stuck to him and served the greater interest of his teams so well, that there came a point in his career where he lost sight of his moorings as a batsman.
The Suresh Raina we know now – is a batsman who is questioned, his credibility taunted and ostensibly proven to the world that he couldn’t be a thoroughbred with the willow. His short ball handling skills show him in poor light and his riposte to a swinging, seaming or even the turning ball wouldn’t be accompanied by great confidence. On flat tracks – baked by the Indian heat, he would give the bowlers a walloping and sadly it would end there.
But the questions that are still looking for answers would all like to find out if this problem is in his mind or in his technique. What if he started thinking of himself purely as a batsman and placed all his stakes on his abilities as one? What if he went back to the domestic circuit and walked into his teams signing up to the responsibility of being their primary run-scorer? Would that change his perception of himself? Would he be more conventional at the crease and gain confidence from those outings?
A pragmatic evaluation will lead us to believe that both the rise and fall of his fortunes as a cricketer have their origins in the T20 player that he has evolved into. T20s will barely, if ever, give him the time to build innings and hone his batting skills, neither will his position in the middle order generally afford him the luxury of pacing his game to accommodate his personal interests along with those of his teams in 50 over cricket.
It is surprising that the younger lot of India’s cricketers has never gone down the county road. For those struggling to find their true calling as cricketers, India’s domestic tournaments and a stint with a county or two would help immensely. The uncluttered simplicity of a domestic setup, devoid of hype, should give them that lone time that they miss while playing international games or franchise cricket. Suresh Raina would be well-served by playing at least a season in the English and Indian domestic circuits and keeping away from the binge of hit and giggle. What he needs most is to find belief that he is a good batsman, to play the ball conventionally and a few long innings on challenging pitches. He needs to sweat under the sun as a batsman and then he will have nothing to stop him from basking again in glory.
He is that protagonist whose story deserves more success and a long run at the top of the listings. Maybe this is the penance that will bring to our midst a batsman who started off being street smart and evolved into a suave willow-wielder that none couldn’t admire.