Michael Jordan needed a Scottie Pippen, so did Lionel Messi with an Andres Iniesta by his side and Suresh Raina is that glue that admirably stuck around with Mahendra Singh Dhoni in highs, lows, and from Saturday, in retirement.
On Saturday, following in the footsteps of his favourite captain and mentor, Raina announced his retirement from international cricket
The 33-year-old is among the few who made centuries across formats, having played 18 Tests, 226 ODIs and 78 T20 Internationals while scoring 768, 5615 and 1605 runs respectively.He also has 36 ODI wickets to his name and 13 each in Tests and T20Is.
One will remember that 34 not out against Australia at Ahmedabad during the 2011 World Cup, an innings that was bridesmaid to Yuvraj Singh’s all-round heroics.
In the semi-final of the same tournament, the unbeaten 36 was pure gold dust but Sachin Tendulkar’s scratchy 85 still remains in our collective conscience.
Some things in life are just meant to be and Raina, the quintessential supporting actor, was probably one of them.
The 33-year-old left-hander from Ghaziabad, a mean white-ball master in his own rights, probably knows that the train called ‘Team India’ has left the station and he will not be able to add on to his 18 Tests, 226 ODIs and 78 T20 Internationals.
But he did hold his own in a significant number of matches as his seven hundreds across three formats (only one among three with KL Rahul and Rohit Sharma being the other two) and nearly 8000 (7988 to be precise) international runs would suggest.
Add to it 167 catches and a rough estimate of 1000 runs saved on the field in the point and cover region, Raina did well while having serious technical limitations, which prevented him from playing more than 18 Test matches.
But again, if Greg Chappell saw a raw talent in the boy from Lucknow Sports College, Dhoni knew how to use him.
Playing for Chennai Super Kings and becoming probably the most consistent IPL players since inception made him a better India player.
The skipper knew that if India played mostly in the sub-continent, an aggressive player like Raina would be an asset with his running between the wickets and ability to hit the spinners with ease.
There were two signature shots of Raina which fetched him plenty of runs. A whip or lofted on drive in the arc between long-on and deep mid-wicket and the inside out lofted shot over extra cover that will either be a six or a one bounce four.
One of the better players of spin bowling, on his day, he could murder the slow bowlers with precision footwork.
It helped that he batted number three at CSK for most of his career while in the Indian team, it would often be number five, where either he came in when the top-order collapsed or for a tricky final few overs.
The understanding with Dhoni grew while batting in those tough overs and for a better part with five fielders outside the 30 yard circle in one-dayers.
But the post 2010 era was Virat Kohli’s where he did all the heavy lifting and Raina, most of the times, was left with precious little to do.
He did, at times, come out of Kohli’s shadow, once against Sri Lanka in an absolute rubbish pitch in Dhaka and against Zimbabwe in a 2015 World Cup game in Auckland.
A game where, for a change, he played the short ball well, something that hurt his career dearly and probably led to his international retirement at a fairly young age of 33.
The international bowlers found out that Raina is susceptible when bowled short in the rib cage area, which he would fend awkwardly, and the gully or short leg will be in business. It ended his Test career prematurely and certainly cut short his white-ball run for India.
He knew the problem but for the longest time, didn’t have the solution as he started losing form after the 2015 World Cup.
A failed YoYo test in 2017 added to his miseries, although he did feature in the 2018 limited overs series in England with a 46 at Lord’s in his second last match.
He remains a Dhoni loyalist as Chinna Thala, for the umpteenth time, decided to follow in his Thala’s footsteps.
It was a good career but it’s Indian cricket’s misfortune that Raina’s full potential couldn’t be realised.