In every sports team there are a couple of guys who, besides contributing in the areas of their expertise, are also unofficially in charge of the team’s energy quotient. These are the players who will run around encouraging their team mates, clap vigorously and be the first to hi-five someone on a good goal, a brilliant save or a stunning catch.
Suresh Raina has always been one such team man for India. For him keeping the spirits high within the camp is as important as skill-based contribution. Team India need him and his personality more than ever before as they look to put the Test series defeat behind them and start afresh for the ODI series against England.
How did you spend your time after the Bangladesh ODI series?
I practiced in Delhi, Noida on a turf wicket and played a few matches in rainy conditions. I went to the Lucknow sports college where I stayed in the boarding school as a kid and practiced there a lot. For the last 10 days or so, I was in Mumbai working at the BKC (Bandra Kurla Complex) indoor facilities. I feel good going into this series and having done well here before there is a level of confidence as well.
Did you have a session or two with Sachin Tendulkar at the BKC?
He came there to play badminton and since Arjun practiced in the nets there, Sachin paaji came to give him some tips. I went up to him and asked how should go about things in England. I had a lot of conversations with him mainly on the mental side of things. I also worked with (Pravin) Amre sir there at the BKC on various aspects of my batting.
What preparations did you do keeping in mind the English conditions? Did you practise against the moving ball?
I played a lot with a taped tennis ball to simulate the movement. We have two long practice sessions here at the Lord’s and then a warm-up match against Middlesex. Then we go to Bristol and have two more practice sessions there. We have enough time until the first ODI to get into the groove and settle down in these conditions.
How is it for you guys to join the team that is smarting from the Test series defeat?
The team is going through a difficult phase right now and it is time for us to show character. It can be difficult sometimes to move on from such defeat but you have to fight your way out of it when you’re playing at the international level. The new players will bring freshness in the squad which will help the guys who have been here for the Tests regain the positivity. They are striving to learn from their mistakes and we will add fresh spirit.
As the senior most player to join the team for the ODIs, do you take it upon yourself to bring positivity and exuberance in the camp?
Yes. I always try to maintain the cheerfulness in the team, on and off the field. I am the first person to run to the bowler or fielder when a wicket falls. Small things like running to the bowler at fine leg or third man to fetch his sweater can make a huge difference in the team’s atmosphere. It is contagious – when one player starts doing it, another follows, and before you know the whole team is pumping with energy and high spirits. This energy takes time to build – sometimes four overs, at times 10 overs. To create that atmosphere someone has to take a lead and make that extra effort. Everyone is either thinking about their own batting or bowling. But I have learned from my coach that these small things can add a lot of value to the team. Mahi (MS Dhoni) always says that when someone makes a brilliant stop or takes a good catch, go and pat him on the back. That shows how involved you are in the game. If I just stand there minding my own business, everyone will just go through the motions. But if I go and pat someone, he will come and do the same when I do something good. That creates a positive aura around in the field, makes you feel lighter and lifts everyone around. That is something that’s in my hands and something I have been doing for the last 10 years.
You have been very open about your desire to bat higher up the order in the ODIs. In recent times, have the difference between batting at 4 and 6 reduced?
The roles have become a lot similar since the two new ball rule has come. That means I will get a more or less new ball to face. In that way the ODI skills have become much more similar to Test skills. The good thing now is that even when batting at 6, I don’t have to bat with tailenders or protect them because this lower order can really bat. Another important aspect of batting at that position is the powerplay overs. It has been a tricky area. Often teams lose wickets in heaps trying to hit everything out. We have been trying to read it over the years and planned as to how to go about that phase. It is very important to have at least one set batsman during the batting powerplay. He needs to carry the score forward while allowing the man at the other end to get in.
How seriously are you taking your bowling, given your role as a part time off spinner?
I know I will be called upon to bowl 4-5 or even more overs and I am prepared for it. The good thing is that I have been bowling regularly in the ODIs. I know that my role with the ball is mainly to contain the runs and I always try to stick to it. But I saw during the Test series that the odd ball was dong a bit from the roughs. I am looking forward to contributing with the ball.
You spent a bit of time with Sourav Ganguly. What did you work on with him?
I had a chat with him on batting. Being a leftie he guided me on things like arm position and other subtle technical things. However, most of it was about the mental makeup when batting in England.