When he first came up on the international scene nearly three years ago, Suresh Raina attracted more than usual attention for a variety of reasons. Here was a youngster, who was not yet 19, but loved to hit the ball hard and high, at the same time personified a brand of aggression that is uncommon. In addition to this, he was an outstanding fielder. Also, he was among the exciting breed of young cricketers that had just made their mark on the national scene after having started off from the small towns, traditionally not known to produce cricketers.
Critics wrote in glowing terms about the uncommonly gifted left-hander predicting that he was going to be one of the batting bulwarks of the future. The obvious comparison was with Yuvraj Singh for Raina too had this ability to decimate the attack when in full flow. Greg Chappell who had just taken over as coach thought highly of Raina and it seemed only a matter of time before he established himself in the middle order. Match winning knocks of 81 not out, 61 and 53 against England in mid-2006 seemed to confirm this. Inexplicably, however, the runs dried up and at one stage he couldn't manage even a half century in 16 innings. By January 2007, Raina's international career seemed to have ground to a premature halt. The fact that his stock had fallen was further reiterated by his omission from the World Cup squad. He looked set to join the ranks of the greatest cricketers India never had. Never had so much promise fizzled out so quickly.
But Raina takes his cricket very seriously. During his year in exile he ironed out technical flaws in his batting, tightened up his technique to go with his natural aggressive play. In the next Ranji season, Raina let his bat do all the talking and consequently starred in Uttar Pradesh's maiden triumph in the Ranji Trophy in 2005-06. Another consistent performance by Raina saw UP make the title clash the following year before losing to Delhi. All this, in addition to the selectors' reliance on youth meant that Raina was back to the national squad after more than a year in the wilderness.
In Indian cricket today, however, there can be few better investments than Raina. His batting in the ongoing Asia Cup has rekindled the old promise and there is a certain maturity and confidence in his approach that was lacking during his earlier stint in the team. It would be easy to dismiss the overall record by saying that his two centuries were notched up against Hong Kong and Bangladesh but that would be missing the point. In Raina's case it is not just the runs but the 'tashan' (style) that catches the eye. His attitude is all about confidence and he gives the unmistakable impression that if persevered with he could bat with the same bold approach even against the best sides.
Evidence of this came about during his 84 against Pakistan. Not many can match Virender Sehwag in strokeplay or run production, but Raina did just that while the two were associated in a second wicket partnership of 198 runs that virtually sealed India's victory despite the fact that the target was a daunting 300. Raina has obviously earned Dhoni's confidence for the Indian captain had promoted him to the pivotal No.3 position for a vital game. His century against Bangladesh should be viewed against the background of coming in when the team was in shaky position having lost two wickets for 56 in pursuit of a stiff target of 284. Making his entry in the tenth over Raina was there at the end in the 44th over with an unbeaten 116 off 107 balls with eleven fours and three sixes. He is getting to be the kind of finisher that any team would pray for in limited overs cricket.
The days of unfulfilled promise could well be over for Raina whose fielding is really spectacular even with the rise in standards. With all the influx of new talent there is still place in the middle order for an aggressive left-handed batsman. And Raina has the requisite technique and temperament which could see him be one of Indian cricket's future flag bearers. At this stage in his career, his talent should be allowed to bloom. Suresh Raina today, knows the price of failure. Hence, the success will prove a lot sweeter.