Suresh Raina's arrival on the international stage was described as a false dawn. Now, the man is in the midst of a glorious renaissance. Six days after finishing among the Indian Premier League's (IPL) top three run-getters and putting in a man-of-the-match performance in the tournament's final, Raina became only the third batsman to reach three-figures in Twenty20 internationals - and the first to do so in World Twenty20.
His magnificent 60-ball 101 yesterday, on a pitch not conducive to stroke-play, allowed India to beat South Africa by 14 runs and reach the second round - Super Eight stage - with a 100 per cent record. "By the grace of God, this has been a really great year for me," said Raina in a post-match television interview. "I have been hitting the ball really well, that's really important for me. "I was just trying to make sure I play straight. I did not play any pre-planned strokes. I knew if I played 40-50 balls, I could easily score 80-plus runs.
"I batted really well in the IPL, so that confidence was there. All I had to do was make sure I stayed there till the last over, because the No 3 batting position is definitely one where you can get a hundred. "Me and Yuvi [Yuvraj Singh] had a good partnership [88 runs]. We batted really well and kept wickets in hand so that we could play the shots in the end." Raina arrived at the crease after the departure of Murali Vijay, his Chennai Super Kings teammate, to the second ball of the match.
India had just four on the board at that stage. When he left, 19.2 overs later, the 2007 world champions had reached 178. Eight more runs came from the last two balls, with MS Dhoni, the captain, launching the final delivery over long-on, allowing India to finish with 186 for five. Jacques Kallis (73 from 54 balls) and Graeme Smith (36 from 28 balls) kept South Africa in the hunt with a 97-run partnership for the second wicket, but their dismissals within seven balls of each other hurt the Proteas' run-chase and they finished on 172 for five.
"We have made a good start to the tournament now we just need to continue this from," said Dhoni. "The batsmen did really well - Yuvraj Singh and Raina, and I got a few runs in the end. That really mattered. If the par score is 170 plus and you end up getting 15 more, the opposition is in trouble." When Yuvraj, who admitted being "short on confidence" after a disappointing time in the IPL, joined Raina at the crease, India were two down for 32 in 5.3 overs.
Consolidation was the order of the day and the two swashbucklers eschewed their flamboyance for the team's cause. Progress was somewhat slow as the 100 came in the 14th over and at the end of 15, they had only 111 on the board. But with wickets in hand, and Raina high on confidence, India added 75 runs from the last five overs. Twenty five of those came from a single over, the 18th, bowled by Rory Kleinveldt.
Raina was on 55 after the end of 15 overs. He smashed 46 from the next 15 balls, smacking 40 of those runs for five sixes and four fours. He passed three-figures with a massive loft into the stands. The right hand was up in celebration as soon as he hit the ball, the index finger pointed towards the sky, signifying his and India's first century in T20 internationals. Smith, a fellow left-hander, would have admired Raina's knock but instead he was left to reflect on his team's failings.
"There were some really good things and some really bad things," he said. "Jacques and I left too much for the guys to do down the back end; we must take responsibility for that. "But I think a few costly things in the field - 75 runs in our last five overs, it takes them to a total that's hard to get on this surface. I think 160 was around par, but Raina played a great knock." * Compiled by Ahmed Rizvi, with agencies