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Raina: Missing piece of middle-order puzzle

Suresh Raina's comeback will be crucial for Team India to overcome its failing middle-order woes as it prepares itself for the awaited 2019 World Cup, writes Aditya K Kalder.

The Men in Blue ended their last season on a brighter note when they made history by winning the first limited over series in South Africa. Despite registering their names in the annals of the cricket books with seven limited-overs match wins in nine games, the Virat Kohli-led side returned home with mixed feelings.
Coach Ravi Shastri and the management were not pleased that India's middle-order had been crumbling on more occasions than one. Except for a solitary 79 by Ajinkya Rahane during the first ODI, there wasn't any significant contribution from the middle-order. The show was largely run by the terrific trio of Kohli, Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma, who went through a purple patch in the recently concluded season. Dismal performances by Rahane, Kedar Jadhav, and MS Dhoni were the biggest let downs off the series. To put things statically, 1051 runs off the 1461 runs were scored by the top order alone. Putting India's World Cup triumph hopes – to be played next year – in jeopardy.
However, the recent surge in the performance of a rejuvenated Suresh Raina could mark the end of India's middle-order woes. The experienced southpaw made a comeback to the national team during the three-match T20I series against South Africa. He was soon in the spotlight by winning the match for his team in the decisive third T20I. Since his return from an injury lay-off, Raina hasn't played any big knock for India or his IPL franchise Chennai Super Kings. But, he has shown consistency with his bat by playing many 30-odd runs innings.
The 31-year-old all-rounder has shown maturity with his growing experience. Once known for his ability to go after the opponent's bowling from the word go, Raina has adopted a calm demeanour by putting a price to his wicket. Playing at number 3 for CSK, he often plays the role of sheet anchor who steadily moves the scoreboard and sets up a strong base for the hard-hitters to follow – MS Dhoni, Dwayne Bravo and others coming after him.
The calmer approach to his gameplay, consistency with the bat, and his part-time bowling ability makes him a perfect fit for the Indian side looking for a much-needed stability in the middle-order. When asked about his role in the team as a middle-order batsman, Raina sounded confident.
"Yes, of course! I did well in South Africa, and now I feel I have done well in the IPL too. There are a lot of other pending matches. The Ireland-England series is coming up, and it is important to know and understand what the team and the coach will be expecting from me. So, one will have to assess that and plan how to play in any given situation," said Suresh Raina, ASICS athlete. However, the Uttar Pradesh Ranji cricketer said he doesn't want to think about the 2019 World Cup yet.
"I am not thinking about 2019 right now, my current focus is on the IPL play-offs. After that, I want to spend some time with my family. Then my focus would be on the England-Ireland series. There is enough time left for me to think about the World Cup next year."
However, with the talent that India possesses in cricket, Raina can't take his spot for granted. Experienced Ranji campaigners, Ambati Rayudu (535 runs in 12 games) and Shreyas Iyer (386 runs), have announced their presence by consistently scoring for their franchises in the IPL and earning a call-up for the England-Ireland series. Rishabh Pant might have missed the bus for the overseas series but he surely has made the right kind of noise by scoring 582 runs to earn a call for the Australia series down-under in November.
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