190317  Suresh Raina 22
Suresh Raina Image Credit: PTI

Dubai: He may be ahead of run machine Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma as the highest run-getter in the history of Indian Premier League (IPL), but Suresh Raina has been out of favour of the national selectors in recent times.

The cherubic southpaw, however, is unfazed as he takes fresh guard for yet another season with the Chennai Super Kings to make a case for himself when the IPL XII gets under way from March 23.

“It does bother me sometimes but it’s a situation not in my control. I try my best not to let that affect me as the priority right now is to do my best in the IPL,” said Raina, owner of 4,985 runs in the most successful T20 franchise league in the world.

Indian skipper Kohli, who leads the Royal Challengers Bangalore, is breathing down Raina’s neck with a tally of 4,948 runs while Mumbai Indians captain Sharma is third in the elite club with 4,493 runs.

Speaking to Gulf News in an exclusive interview over phone from India, the pivot of the three-time champion side’s batting line-up felt that like previous years, it’s the “family atmosphere” of the unit which would make them one of the favourites.

“We have just assembled for a short camp and not all the overseas players are here because of some international series still going on. This format requires discipline and a lot of mental strength while the key is to stay fresh amid all the shoots, travel etc so that the players can go out and express themselves,” said Raina, who had been a CSK loyalist barring the two years of suspension in between when he captained the now defunct Gujarat Lions.

It is a testimony to the team management’s philosophy of continuity, which saw them retaining the core group after two years in the sidelines in 2016 and 2017, which played a key role in Chennai winning their third crown last season. “It was not an easy job though,” recalled Raina, going on to add: “Firstly, quite a few of us hadn’t played together for two years. Our fans, who are such a big strength for the team were not there to root for us always as we played our home matches in Pune. Our initial target was to reach the play-offs but fortunately, we could go all the way. It was a brilliant team effort.” Raina, who is the first batsman to score 300-plus runs in all the 11 previous editions, played his part with an aggregate of 445 runs during their successful campaign.

Raina’s admiration for Mahendra Singh Dhoni, starting from their association in the Indian team to the long journey of CSK, is only too well known. The synergy between the duo at the middle had seen the yellow shirts get over the line in countless matches over the years — and Raina is very optimistic about ‘MSD’ having a good World Cup. Asked about his experience of working closely with him, Raina said: “Look, he still remains a keen student of the game. Dhoni is also responsible for giving the franchise stability and will be once again a cog in the wheel for us. The IPL will, meanwhile, be a good preparation for him for the World Cup.”

Now 32, Raina has been a World Cup winner (in 2011 World Cup under Dhoni) apart from being a part of six World T20s since 2009. However, a patchy form after the 2015 World Cup saw him getting in and out of the side before he was dropped off the central contracts in 2017. Does he fancy a tilt at what could be his third 50-overs World Cup appearance, as suddenly there are still a few question marks in the Indian middle order? “I don’t want to ponder this. Right now, my aim is to be the first batsman in IPL to reach 5,000 runs,” he added.

It will be interesting to find out who among the trio of Raina, Kohli and Rohit get to that magic figures of 5000 runs in IPL first!