Dubai: When it comes to the Indian Premier League (IPL), there is very little left for Suresh Raina to achieve. The southpaw, who has been always a part of the core group of Chennai Super Kings during their journey of IPL — barring the two seasons of their ban — is only second to Virat Kohli in terms of being the highest run-getters in the league with 5,368 runs.
As the countdown to the 13th season of IPL begins, the 33-year-old southpaw takes a fresh guard to serve the yellow shirts for another year — but this time with tempered expectations. “My aim is just to have a good IPL. I am not thinking of any aspirations of making a comeback to the national team for the World T20, but to just enjoy the season and take it from there,” said Raina, a key for the Men in Blue in white ball cricket not so long ago.
The change in Raina’s philosophy — in his own words — has been triggered by the major knee surgery, which he had to undergo in The Netherlands in September last year. “This is the second time I had to go under the doctor’s knife, the first one being when I was just 18 years old,” the effervescent Raina told Gulf News in an exclusive interview from New Delhi.
Does that mean that he had played throughout his international career — spanning over a decade from 2006-2007 with an operated knee? “Yes, it’s been a tough journey,” revealed Raina, who formed a part of Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s small town heroes after a surprise triumph in the inaugural 2007 World T20 in South Africa.
“Lying down in the hospital room, cricket was the farthest thing in my mind. My worry was how soon I would be able to return to a normal life,” said Raina, who is affectionately hailed as Chinna Thala, meaning deputy head, by his legion of Chennai fans. “As I started recovering, I enjoyed the normal things in life like spending the December 31 with the family, seeing off my four-year-old daughter Gracia to school. I realised there were more things to life than just cricket — till I started my rehab,” he said.
The CSK management, which is often credited by the team’s talismanic captain Dhoni and the players for forging a bond like a family, also threw in their lot behind Raina once he was on the mend. “I have just returned from a monthlong intensive camp in Chennai where I worked hard under our South African trainer Greg King to get the strength back on my knees. I am also satisfied with the way I have been hitting the ball,” said Raina, who was accompanied by other senior members of the franchise like Murali Vijay and Ambati Rayudu.
The three-time champions of IPL — who boast of a best record in the league along with Mumbai Indians — will begin an intensive camp from March 3. The upcoming season, apart from being an important one for him for one last tilt at the Indian team, may also see the hugely successful outfit coming out under the captaincy of ‘MSD’ for one last time.
Asked how he savoured the association with one of the most decorated captains of the game whose retirement is just round the corner, Raina said: “He has been very much a part of my journey as I have played under his captaincy both in IPL and for India. I don’t want to comment on his retirement plans as he knows when to take the call.”
Looking back at his own career, Raina wanted to thank two giants of Australian cricket — Matthew Hayden and Mike Hussey — for shaping his approach to batting during the IPL. “I have played at No 3 right through and did not have a big physique like either of them. However, I have learnt a lot from them — especially Hayden — who taught me a lot about the art of batting in T20s,” he said.
The logjam in the Indian middle order — especially in the shorter format which has seen a clutch of younger talents like Shreyas Iyer, Rishabh Pant, Shubman Gill or a young veteran like K.L. Rahul — will certainly not make it any easier for Raina to harbour any realistic chances of a comeback. While he is more than aware of it, Raina possibly wants to use such a competition from the younger lot as a peg to motivate him for the season ahead.
“My experience tells me that the presence of quality left-handers between No. 4 and 7 helps the team’s cause in the T20 format. There are two back-to-back World T20s coming up (one in Down Under later this year and then in India in 2021) … However, it’s important for me to have a good IPL first,” Raina trailed off.
Born: November 27, 1986, Muradnagar, Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh
Current age: 33 years
Major teams: India, Chennai Super Kings, Gujarat Lions, India Blue, India Under-19s, Indian Board President’s XI, Rajasthan Cricket Association President’s XI, Uttar Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh Under-16s
Also known as ‘Sanu’
Batting style: Left-hand bat
Bowling style: Right-arm off break
Runs: Tests: 768 from 18 matches
ODIs: 5615 from 226 matches
T20s: 1605 from 78 matches