The last time Suresh Raina had turned out for India before being called up for the Twenty20 International series in South Africa was on 1 February 2017, against England in Bengaluru. On that occasion, he had scored 63 in 45 balls, the highest for the Indian innings, as his team won by 75 runs despite his only over going for 22 runs.
He was brought back into the XI straightaway in South Africa and started with a scratchy 15 in the first game, then got slightly better with a 24-ball 31, and finally hit his stride in the decider, with a 27-ball 43 that included five fours and a six. India won by seven runs to take the series 2-1, and Raina was named the Player of the Match – he also chipped in with 1/27 from three overs of off-spin.
Earlier on the tour, India lost the three-Test series 2-1 – the win in the final Test helping them hold on to the ICC Test Championship mace – and won the one-day international series 5-1, the first time they had won in South Africa, making it a successful tour on the whole.
Success comes with a lot of hard work & motivation! And Motivation comes from a big support system.— Suresh Raina (@ImRaina) February 25, 2018
Big thanks everyone for all the love, wishes and support.✌️🇮🇳👌🤙 pic.twitter.com/iI0MmDMtyy
“First of all, congratulations to Team India,” said Raina after the third T20I on Saturday, 24 February. “The way we played Test matches, one-day, as well as the T20s showed [what] we can achieve as a team in South Africa. No team [has] ever done it before. So I think that confidence in the dressing room gave us a lot of licence to enjoy ourselves on the ground and express ourselves. That’s why we won this game very beautifully. I think T20 cricket is all about how you put your attitude on the field. That’s what it showed.”
In the gap of just over a year, Raina has done the rounds of the Indian domestic circuit and, as anyone following him on social media knows, worked on his fitness in a big way.
“I worked really hard for last two years. Each and every session I was doing in the gym, on the field, I was just hoping when I’m going to play for India again. And I think God has been very kind. Thanks to my wife, my kid, they really made me believe that I can go there and wear the team jersey again,” he said.
“I think that’s what Indian team does. When a lot of sacrifices you do for your life and at the same time you enjoy your cricket – and I have worked really hard on my game as well as my mental toughness – when Team India wins, everything looks so nice.”
Raina made his international debut in July 2005 in an ODI in Dambulla, Sri Lanka when Rahul Dravid was the India captain. From there to playing under Virat Kohli and, in the last game when Kohli sat out, Rohit Sharma, has been a long journey for him.
It was Kohli’s confidence in him that helped him raise his game in his comeback series, Raina said, and batting with Shikhar Dhawan in a 65-run stand for the second wicket in the final game was just what he needed.
“The way Virat led the team, it shows he cares [for] each and every person. Batting No.3 he just gave me the licence that just go after all the bowlers. That just showed the faith in me,” said Raina.
“At the same time, I was enjoying batting with Shikhar. I think he made me more comfortable. He was telling me to look to enjoy yourself, look to express your shots. That’s what we have done in six overs. In T20 cricket, it’s all about six overs. You can put a lot of bowlers on the back foot easily if you have wickets in hand, you can execute later on.”
Now 31, Raina was a part of the Indian team at the ICC Under-19 Cricket World Cup in 2004 and, seven years later, won the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 at home.
Next, he has the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 in his sights, even though he hasn’t played ODI cricket since 25 October 2015 when South Africa toured India and he had a poor series.
“This moment is very important for me,” he said. “We’re going to play in Sri Lanka (Nidahas Trophy) as well as in IPL (Indian Premier League). Then we have lot of matches coming up. And I’ve been part of the World Cup before – I won the World Cup in 2011. I played my first World Cup and I’ve got the trophy in my house. It’s an unbelievable feeling.
“Coming back to one-day squad, I think No.5 I’ve done well there. It’s just a matter of a couple of more games I can show that definitely I’m going to be there very soon.”