Suresh Raina, appointed captain of the new Indian Premier League franchise Gujarat Lions, has made his intentions for the upcoming season clear: He just wants to go out there and 'smash'.
Raina did not have the best of times in the recently concluded World T20, scoring just 41 runs from four matches at an average of 10.25. And though he remains the leading run-scorer in IPL history with 3,699 runs, he had a very mediocre season last year, averaging just 24.93, almost 10 points below his overall IPL average of 34.25.
In his last nine T20I innings, he has averaged just 14.44. But despite poor form, the southpaw sounded confident about his chances in IPL 9.
"Just go there and smash," was Raina's answer when asked about his goals for IPL 9. "That's what I have done in the last few years, be it in the IPL or while playing for India, and I have done this really well over the years," Raina said, on the sidelines of a launch of Repsol's lubricant business in India.
Ever since its inception, Raina was an integral part of Chennai Super Kings and never missed a single game for franchise. But with CSK being suspended after the IPL spot-fixing scandal, Raina was bought by new franchise Gujarat Lions and was named its captain. Having played under the tutelage of Dhoni all these years, Raina often acted as the go-to man in crunch situations. But things have changed now. Dhoni will be leading another new franchise, the Rising Pune Supergiants.
When asked about the challenge of playing against Dhoni, Raina answered with a witty, "Sir, 11 player khel rahe hai uske saath aur hamare against (There are 11 players playing in that team and against us). I am not competing against Dhoni. I am competing against seven teams, all of whom are balanced, and most of whom have done well in the past. But, I am lucky that we do have most of the players from CSK (who have played earlier)."
Raina has led the Indian national team in the past, but this will be the first time he will be captaining an IPL side. However, he said there are 10 other players and the team isn't complete without them. He also said that the IPL is a chance for youngsters to improve and stake a claim for a call-up to the national team.
"I think I've got the responsibility of leading the side, but in the IPL, a captain is just a name. You need 11 good players in your side, and I do think we have match-winners in Gujarat Lions," Raina said.
"For the last eight years, youngsters shared a dressing room with world class players at Chennai Super Kings, so the next two years will also be very exciting. Playing for India, we reached the semi-finals at the World T20 and won the Asia Cup and the three T20Is earlier in Australia as well. The youngsters have improved on their cricket. This will be a very good platform for them to get better before representing their country in the future," Raina added.
At CSK, the team had formed a special bond with its fans and Raina says it would prove to be difficult for the new franchise to get such a hardcore following, especially since they don't have much time. “It will be difficult to get the connect in just two years. When you have been staying in your house for many years, and suddenly someone says that you have to live in another house for two years, it brings about a lot of challenges in life," Raina said.
"But you have to live, you have to sleep in your new house. I have played for CSK for eight years, learnt a lot of things from senior players. Gujarat never had a team before, so it would be a great opportunity for the Gujaratis (to come and support us). We have the best coaches and a few match-winning players like Bravo, McCullum, etc. This shows how much experience we have in the dressing room. IPL 9 will surely be very exciting. I hope all teams do well," Raina added.
Raina was also full of praise for West Indian all-rounder Dwayne Bravo, who will go into the IPL high on confidence after lifting the World T20 trophy. "Bravo will be playing in an altogether different team after the World T20 win. I met him in Mumbai and he was really happy. I am very lucky to have him in my team," he added.