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Raina reigns over Eden Park

Indian batsman speaks about the masterful run-chase and his maiden World Cup hundred

India were three down for 73, with Ajinkya Rahane run-out after putting up a fifty run-stand with Virat Kohli. Suresh Raina walks out to bat. 21 runs later, Kohli is out bowled and India are 92 with the top four back in the hut. Zimbabwe cheer, Indian fans wear a worry on their forehead.

Fingers are crossed hoping for an Indian win and the job is left to two individuals who would later teach a lesson on ‘how to plan a successful run-chase’. It takes 20 deliveries for MS Dhoni to hit a boundary, 19 for Raina. Runs come slow; there are not many big shots, instead some meticulous ones and twos that keep the scoreboard ticking.

In over number 30, Raina shows first signs of aggression and tonks left-arm spinner Sean Williams for two consecutive sixes. Raina has got his eye in; he knows he can take his side over the line, and he couldn’t have asked for a better master in run-chases other than MS Dhoni.

Meanwhile, Raina is batting on 47; he goes for a sweep and mistimes it. The ball is up in the air, Hamilton Masakadza is under it, the crowd behind roars for a drop, Indians at the Eden Park hold their breath and the catch is dropped - a costly one at that. From then on, begins the Suresh Raina onslaught.

Cricketing shots being hit in the ‘Raina-zone’, mighty heaves into the crowd, gentle nudges for boundaries and finally a single to record a maiden World Cup century. Eden Park is at its feet to applaud a hero and the thirty thousand odd crowd is roaring in jubilation. Dhoni is unbeaten on 85, Raina on 110; their partnership a 196. Man of the match, Suresh Raina is a relieved and satisfied man. After taking India home in a tense run-chase, he spared a few minutes for a chat with bcci.tv.

Excerpts

How special is a maiden World Cup hundred?

This was an important knock for me. I wasn’t getting much time to bat after my first knock against Pakistan but I was feeling good about my batting in general in the tournament. I knew a big hundred was round the corner. Getting a century in a World Cup is always special and I am feeling great at the moment. I am very happy today and I feel I have done something really special for the team. I got a Man of the match award in the U-19 World Cup and I have got one today. This is a special one and I will cherish this. I would like to dedicate this ton to all my fans who have prayed for my success and backed me even when I have not got big scores.

In a way, will this batting performance augur well for the middle-order?

You are right. The middle-order has been a bit untested so far since the top order batsmen were finishing off things for us. When the top order failed on one occasion against the West Indies, MS Dhoni finished it for us. Personally, today was the perfect platform for me to show my prowess with the bat. I knew if I could stay at the wicket till the last ball of the match I could win it for India. I feel I made the most of my chance in the middle.

India were in a precarious position with four down and just 90 on the board. How did you and MS Dhoni plan the run-chase from that position?
  
Me and MS Dhoni have been having great partnerships over the last seven to eight years while chasing. We wanted to take the game as close as possible and knew if we did that we would end up on the winning side. Me and MS have played so much that we understand our respective games well. We as partners trust each other and we showed that we could win from any situation. We had the belief that if we stayed at the wicket, we could finish the game with a couple of overs to spare.

I had to play my shots. I had a plan of targeting the left-arm bowler and I knew I could clear the field. It was very important to maintain a balance between the mode of attack and defense. It was important to rotate the strike, look for singles and doubles and get that one-off big hit. When the off-spinner came on, I knew Dhoni would target him. Also, we wanted to make the most of the batting powerplay. We have seen games changing in the batting powerplay be it with the bat or the ball. We were very sensible with our shots in the batting powerplay and made good use of it without losing a wicket.

Did you time your big shots or was it just natural instincts?

My plan was to attack the bad balls. You need to be courageous and back yourself. It pays off at times and at times it backfires. Number 5 and 6 positions in the batting order are crucial and you need to back your instincts and be calculative in your stroke play at the same time. You need to minimize the risk factor when you are chasing targets. Strike rotation was important and taking singles was difficult instead of hitting the big shots. I knew I had to take singles. It was important to curb my natural instincts and I think I was successful in doing that. One of my strengths is to attack the left arm-spinners and I did just that when I got the opportunity. I now know how to play when I have situations like these in the future.

Was it intentional to target the smaller parts of the ground for run-scoring?

I don’t think so. I was using the pace of the bowlers to work them to third man and point. I feel I was playing proper cricketing shots. I believe I can hit the long ones at any point of the game. I had to be explosive and expressive in my shot selections and today was one of those days when everything came good. A lot of credit has to go to Sanjay Bangar who has been working hard on improving my game in the nets. Not to forget Ravi Shastri and MS Dhoni who have always been there to back me. Dhoni has been leading all the team meetings and expressed his thoughts to the whole team in a very positive manner.

Did you skip a beat when you mistimed a sweep and were dropped?

(Smiles) MS had told me not to play that shot because it is not a shot that I usually play. I had a single for the taking that time. But later on I am glad I could capitalise on it and get a good knock for the team.

What do you think has been the success mantra for India in this World Cup?

The outlook of this team has changed completely after the ODI tri-series. This team is looking totally different in the World Cup. The reason is, everyone believes in their game and trusts his own abilities and have been executing their plans well. The bowlers have looked great in comparison to the ODI tri-series. That is a result of tremendous self-belief. Credit to each one of them to bring back the lost belief and channelise them into performances in the World Cup. The good thing about the batsmen as well is that they are performing in unison. If one fails, the other performs and it goes on in that order. I think this is the way a team should perform in a World Cup; working as a unit, backing each other and playing their roles to perfection.

We have taken sixty wickets in as many matches which is outstanding and we have a few tons under our belt as well. We have a belief that we can chase down or defend any target. We just need to be humble in our process, respect our opponents and not get complacent having won all our pool games.

How pumped up is the team for the quarter-final?

We are all looking forward to it and we believe we have a good all-round side. Everything is working well for us and if it works well for another two weeks then it would be great. Now it is all about those three crucial games - the quarters, semis and the final. We need to continue what we have been doing over the past one month and work on our strengths. We need to get our focus on the rest of the three games. As of now we need to go and play really well against Bangladesh. They have reached this stage playing some good cricket. I hope we do well and we believe we will. 

Anand Subramaniam

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How Nair converted 30 into 300

Karnataka batsman rates his Ranji final triple ton his best ever

Karun Nair batted Tamil Nadu out of the Ranji Trophy final at the Wankhede Stadium with a patiently compiled unbeaten triple-century. The 23-year old batsman had not been amongst runs in the lead-up to the grand finale after scoring prolifically in the previous season.

However, with his team reeling on 16 for 3 and KL Rahul retiring hurt, Nair watchfully built the innings. He not only salvaged it but set Karnataka well on course to retain the coveted trophy.

While speaking to the media after second day’s play, Nair had said, “I was getting a lot of 30s and I was getting out off one wrong ball.” Determined to change that, Nair decided to bide his time and deliver a big score when his team needed it the most.

So what had helped the middle-order batsman convert a 30 into a 300 this time? “I just concentrated and tried to make sure that I reach fifty first and then take it from there,” Nair told BCCI.TV after returning at stumps on Day-three with an unbeaten 301. “That’s the way it goes. Once you get the 100 and the field spreads out, you keep getting runs afterwards. So I just tried to make it as big as possible and not let go. And if you are not getting runs, you value every run even more.”

Patience characterised the young batsman’s stay in the middle and he was ably supported by KL Rahul who made 188. Speaking about the partnership, Nair said, “I know Rahul since I started playing cricket. we started together at same age group. It helps that we know each other so well. We just kept batting and talking to each other.”

So was there nervousness as they inched towards their respective double centuries? No, was the reply.“I don’t think we had any nervousness as such. We just had to spend time at the wicket and runs would come automatically because both of us are stroke makers. So, we just wanted to spend time at the wicket.”

Unsurprisingly, Nair rated this knock as the best he has ever played. “It means a lot to me,” he said. “We always plan like this. After yesterday we had planned that we have to bat the whole day today to bat them out of the match. I feel really happy that I have been able to achieve that.”

Batting for over two days, Nair has broken records and is on the brink of making some of his own. Asked if he was aware of them, he said, “At one point the team management kept telling that this is what is coming up but I wasn’t looking at that,” he said.

This is the longest that he has ever batted and the effort was evident. What is even more pleasing is that it has borne rich dividends. “The atmosphere in the dressing room is fantastic,” Nair said. “We just wanted to seal the title off by batting today and we will bat as long as possible tomorrow also,” he signed off.

Prajakta Pawar

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