In 2013, when Alastair Cook led England to India post a Christmas break, he was hopeful of the team replicating its breakthrough Test performances in coloured clothing too. Raina though foiled those plans as he struck four successive half centuries to be crowned man of the series which India won 3-2.
On Wednesday, with India tottering at 39 for 3 in their second and last warm-up match of the ICC World T20 against England at the Shere-E-Bangla National Stadium, Raina once again proved how the T20 format liberates him as a cricketer.
The buccaneering southpaw struck an entertaining 54 (31balls, 6×4, 2×6) and added 81 runs with Virat Kohli after India’s top-order was polished off by the England pacers. Kohli too played a capital innings of 74 (48 balls, 8×4) as India posted 178 for 4 after being sent into bat by England captain Eoin Morgan.
Raina (4-0-23-1) returned to haunt England with the ball too. He dismissed a rampaging Michael Lumb 36 (25b, 6×4, 1×6) stumped and his fastish round-arm off-spin proved difficult to hit. Being a batsman himself, he thinks like one even when he bowls and that helps him outwit opponents. Spin proved to be England’s nemesis again as they scored just 158-6 and lost by 20 runs. India’s performance in the field was patchy with Varun Aaron proving a liability on the ground. The pacer misfielded regularly and dropped Moeen Ali twice in the deep off well-disguised Amit Mishra googlies.
The match was all about Raina’s batting though. He essayed the swivelled pull well on Wednesday, a rarity for him. The good thing about the UP left-hander though is that whenever he gets bogged down, or is under pressure, he has two release shots, the lofted extra-cover drive and the wristy flick over mid-wicket. Both worked like a charm on Wednesday.
Things though aren’t looking all rosy for the 2007 champs. While there are valid concerns about the bowling attack, right now the weak link appears to be the top-order. India wasted another opportunity to try out a new opening combination. It’s been a while that Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma have succeeded as an opening pair. This match should have been the ideal platform to try out someone new. At least the move would’ve enabled one to see if Rohit succeeds in the middle-order like he has in franchise-based T20 cricket.
However, for that to happen, you need a flexible captain which MS Dhoni isn’t. He retained faith in the pair and his decision, not surprisingly, backfired as both Sharma and Dhawan perished quickly.
India were two down in the powerplay. As Yuvraj fell quickly too, their best batsman, Kohli, was once again left to do the mopping up. But then Raina arrived and played a momentum-shifting innings to help him out.
India will hope to iron out the flaws before the big clash against Pakistan here on Friday.
Brief scores: India 178/4 in 20 overs (V Kohli 74 not out, S Raina 54) beat England 158/6 in 20 overs (M Ali 46, M Lumb 36; R Jadeja 2/23) by 20 runs