Why Raina could still be in for a starting spot in the 2019 World Cup team

Last Updated: Fri, Mar 02, 2018 15:34 hrs
suresh raina

Suresh Raina has played 223 ODIs for India, scoring 5568 runs and averaging 35.46. But the last of those 223 matches came in October 2015. Before last month's T20 series versus South Africa, his last appearance for India in the shortest format was in February 2017 against England.

Now having been picked for the South Africa series and having shone with bat and ball in the decider, helping India to a 2-1 series win and himself to the Man of the Match award, what are the chances of the 31-year-old making it to the ODI team ahead of next year's World Cup?

The man himself is quiet optimistic. Speaking at the post-match conference, Raina was full of hope: "This series was very important for me. From here on, we will play in Sri Lanka and then IPL. We have a lot of matches coming up. I have been part of the World Cup before and I have won it (in 2011). I have done well at No.5. It is just a matter of couple more games and I can show that I can do well and come back in the ODIs."

His optimism is justified. His omission from the team hasn't been so much about form as it has about fitness. During the 2014-15 season, Raina featured in 20 ODIs for India, scoring 517 runs and averaging 32.31. In the 10 matches that India won, he scored 368, and averaged 52.57. But surprisingly, for someone who became a household name for his athletic abilities in the outfield, it was his fitness that pushed Raina out of the team.

In 2016, the Anil Kumble-led Indian management had made the yo-yo test the fitness parameter for national selection. The same year, Raina had flown from Delhi to Bengaluru for India's ODI series against New Zealand. He had just played a Ranji trophy match for UP though he hadn't batted in the second innings as he wasn't fully fit. He failed the yo-yo test and missed the first 2 ODIs. A week later, he failed the test again, unable to make the minimum 16:1 mark set by the Indian management.

"I worked really hard over the last two years. Each and every session I was doing in the gym or on the field, I was just hoping when I am going to play for India again. God has been kind. Thanks to my wife, she really made me believe that I can go out and wear the India jersey again,” said Raina at the post-match conference.

Having scored 15 runs off 7 balls in the opener against the Proteas and 31 off 17 in the second match, Raina took centre stage in the decider. Virat Kohli had to sit out due to a stiff back while stand-in skipper Rohit Sharma failed again with the bat. Shikhar Dhawan was struggling to find the gaps but Raina came out all guns blazing, smashing 43 off just 27 balls. During the power play, he was in full command, accounting for 32 of India's 57 runs, off just 17 balls.

In fact, he was so much in the groove that he smacked the first delivery he faced for a six. "You need to show intent in the first 6 overs. When you get the ball in your area, you hit it (on the first-ball six)," said Raina after the match.

With the likes of Dhoni and Kohli sitting out of the series in Lanka, Raina has a real chance of making a case for himself. Manish Pandey, Dinesh Karthik, Kedar Jadhav and Ajinkya Rahane have all struggled to hold down an ODI spot and Raina realizes how open the situation is.

Batting at No. 4

Innings

Runs

Highest

Average

Suresh Raina

20

675

116*

45.00

Manish Pandey

8

183

104*

36.60

Dinesh Karthik

14

304

64*

38.0

Kedar Jadhav

3

18

12

9.0

Ajinkya Rahane

27

843

89

36.65

"If you talk about the No 4 slot in the ODIs, it is not an easy one to bat on. Most of the time the team is in a tricky situation when the No 4 comes to bat, especially while chasing. One needs to attack, change the gears constantly. I personally feel that the No 4 and 5 slot suits more to my style of batting," Raina had said ahead of the SA series.

Raina will be 32 when the 2019 World Cup arrives. If he can maintain his fitness and find his form, one cannot ignore that he does pack in a world of experience. Having been part of a victorious World Cup campaign before, Kohli could do with a veteran like him in the middle order.

With some more runs and a little bit of luck, despite the years in the wilderness, Raina could still be in for a starting spot in the 2019 World Cup team.

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