x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Raina must learn to face the short ball

In the last five months, pace bowlers have got him with the short one, or pushed him so far on to the back foot with it that he was in no position to play the full delivery.

As falls from grace go, Suresh Raina has endured one nearly as painful as Humpty-Dumpty's.

In the last week of July, Raina scored a stylish century on debut in Colombo. A week later, he helped VVS Laxman chase down 257 as India squared this series.

But exactly five months after getting an India cap, he watched from the dressing room as Cheteshwar Pujara walked out at No 6 in Durban.

Pujara may have made only 19, but in the space of the 45 balls that he faced, he showed a lot more composure than Raina had in his recent Test outings.

Touted as a future captain not long ago, Raina, 24, now faces an anxious wait on the sidelines.

Waiting has been one of the central themes of the Raina story.

He was just 18 and training at the National Cricket Academy in Bangalore when Greg Chappell, newly appointed as India's coach, and Rahul Dravid, captain in Sourav Ganguly's absence, watched him play.

They liked what they saw and within a month Raina was on the plane to Sri Lanka to make his one-day debut.

That first stint in the side, during which he played only a couple of innings of note, lasted just 18 months.

By the time he arrived in South Africa at the end of 2006, his confidence was shot and opposition bowlers had ruthlessly exploited the gaps in his technique.

After failing in Durban in his only innings of the tour, Raina was among those who went home before the start of the Test series.

It would be another 18 months before he regained a place in the one-day XI.

Starting with the Asia Cup in Pakistan in June 2008, he showcased the talent and shot-making ability that had so excited those who watched him as a teenager.

By the time Yuvraj Singh's injury gave him a Test debut in Sri Lanka, Raina had 98 one-day caps and was being talked of as MS Dhoni's long-term successor. When a second-string went to Zimbabwe in May-June and flopped badly against Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka, it was Raina who led them.

At the Sinhalese Sports Club, where he made a polished 120 and added 256 with Sachin Tendulkar, he slotted seamlessly into the Test side.

On slow and low pitches, his aggressive intent served him well, and he took that good form into the home series against Australia, though the 86 he scored in the first innings at Mohali was laced with risk.

The downfall started in the second innings, with India set 216 to win. Ben Hilfenhaus banged one in at the rib cage and the tame fend was easily taken by Marcus North in the slip cordon.

In seven subsequent innings, including five against New Zealand's less-than-formidable attack, he managed just 64 runs. Pace bowlers got him with the short one, or pushed him so far on to the back foot with it that he was in no position to play the full delivery.

At Centurion in the first Test of this series, Jacques Kallis got him twice, caught in the slips, off a good-length ball and a short one.

The fact that he had not looked like scoring forced the team management's hand in Durban, especially with memories fresh of Pujara's confident 72 against Australia in Bangalore.

Raina has already been retained by the Chennai Super Kings for the Indian Premier League's fourth season, and while his future in limited-overs blue seems secure, urgent remedial work is needed to get back his Test place.

The IPL may boost the bank account but what his game cries out for is a domestic season in England, South Africa or Australia to confront the short-ball demons that have paused a promising career.