Emotions ran high on a sultry night at the Motera Stadium in Ahmedabad as Yuvraj Singh smashed Brett Lee through extra cover to power India into the semi-final of the 2011 World Cup.
The visuals of Yuvraj Singh going down on his knees, letting out a huge roar and swatting his bat in the air became iconic.
Amidst all this, there was Suresh Raina charging down from the non-striker's end to embrace Yuvraj. While the entire nation revelled in Yuvraj's heroics (57 not out off 65 balls), there was an unsung hero who had played a crucial role in India's victory.
Raina strode out to the crease with India in a tricky situation at 187/5, having lost Mahendra Singh Dhoni in the 38th over. And with 74 needed from 12 overs, the duo mixed caution with aggression and absorbed the pressure, sending the Indian fans into a frenzy.
Raina didn't hit a century. He didn't hit a fifty. Thirty-four runs off 28 balls was one of the most underrated knocks of Raina's career. It was just his second match of the tournament after having warmed the benches for the first five matches. Raina, though, had another one in store. It would come as early as in the next match.
India had just lost a set Sachin Tendulkar (85) in the 37th over in the semi-final against Pakistan. Raina walked out at 187/5 and played a crucial innings of 36 off 39 balls even as wickets kept tumbling at the other end, and took India to a competitive 260 at the PCA Stadium, Mohali.
Those two innings encapsulated Raina's temperament as a finisher. Since his debut in 2005, Raina has endured a bumpy ride. However, his role as a finisher has won Indian many matches.
Firstpost caught up with the Uttar Pradesh batsman in Mumbai on the sidelines of the Ceat awards to discuss the art of finishing.
FP: How difficult it is to do the job of a finisher in limited overs cricket?
Raina: It's not difficult, I would say it's more of your responsibility. When you bat down the order, it always gives you a chance to be a hero for the Indian team. And I have done that for so many years. I have done that in the IPL (Indian Premier League) and in first class cricket. I think it's my role to do it. When you are batting at No 6, you have to perform. When you go in at a crucial time and finish the game, it always gives you satisfaction in your mind. I became a more responsible person. You feel that responsibility about you, which is the best thing.
FP: Could you tell us the mentality needed to be good in that role?
Raina: You need to read the situation. You need to read the circumstances. How many runs you are chasing, (if) are you chasing nine per over or 12 per over. It starts from over one - how you plan, how many (runs) you are chasing. With the new rules coming up, you need to plan which bowler to target and which one to not take risk against. You need to learn how to bat with tailenders because you need to take all the pressure and absorb it yourself. I like playing under pressure because I have always delivered and there is a different sense of security.
FP: How do you approach batting in death overs?
Raina: You need to understand the situation, what target your are chasing and plan accordingly. The most important thing is what mindset you are going in with, in which over and against what opposition. So you already visualise while reading the game, sitting in the dressing room. When you sit inside the dressing room, you analyse, follow what the captains are doing out on the field. You then prepare plan A and if that doesn't work then have plan B ready. I already choose the bowlers whom I have to attack. If there are five fielders inside the circle, then I know my areas where to hit, I know where I will hit a particular bowler. I have already played 223 ODIs and all that experience comes in handy.
FP: When you are sitting inside the dressing room, are you continuously thinking or relaxed?
Raina: You need to feel the pressure and then absorb that pressure sitting in the dug out. You need to know what your plan will be. The moment you go in, you feel like expressing yourself. Because you need to enjoy yourself while playing cricket. It's not like you are totally bogged down by pressure. I don't get bogged down because I like to enjoy the game, I like to express my feelings on the field. That's why I have been very successful. It's there in the mind when you are playing international cricket, but the most important thing is to enjoy your game.
FP: You revelled under pressure a lot of times. Is it something innate or you developed it over a period of time?
Raina: It developed over the years. At the start of my career in 2005, I used to bat higher up the order, then I played at No 3 in the IPL and then a lot of matches in the lower order, at No 6 and 7. You just get a feeling from inside that when you are playing for your country, every match is important. You take it one game at a time and develop the art with experience in international cricket. You don't become a big player overnight. God has been really kind that whenever the situation demanded runs, he always chose me to go out there and finish the match. So I am very blessed.
FP: Were there instances where you felt really nervous?
Raina: It's necessary to get nervous. It is very important. If you don't get nervous then there is something wrong in your body. When you are representing your nation, there is a sense of nervousness because it's important to feel that pressure. If it's not there then either you are overconfident or not focusing enough. I like that pressure. I like that nervousness when I go in to bat. I get nervous in every match, there isn't a particular match. When you are playing for India, there's this thing inside telling me that I have to do it. That's why they say "pressure me hi accha khelte hai".
FP: So how do you calm those nerves down?
Raina: When you enter the field and walk up to the crease and take guard, you feel all that. While walking down the crease when you perform stretches, take long breaths, do some planning, scan left to right and vice versa. At that time you get to know how you are going to play today.
FP: How difficult is it to decide when to take a risk, especially when you know one wicket and the match is lost ?
Raina: It's when you are reading the game you have to decide when to take the risk. You can't pre-decide it. Because when I am going out to bat, I may come in as early as the 20th over, or the 30th or 40th. You have to read the game first. Which bowler has how many overs left. How many runs you need. You try your best to take it to the last and then try to finish it. When you have wickets in hand, you can always execute (big shots) later on. When you are out in the middle, you have to keep all these things in mind.
FP: Don't you get the feeling that, let's finish it quickly?
Raina: My game is such that if I am there out in the middle, the game will itself get finished early (smiles). But you can't premeditate that when I am in the middle I will finish it early. It looks pretty easy when you are off the field. But when you head out to the middle, it's only after facing the bowler that you realise that if we need 60 from 30 balls, even if I play 20 balls, the target can be achieved. However, you have to think about your partner too at the non-striker's end because it's a team game. If I am going all out, he is playing the sheet anchor's role. So we have to plan accordingly.
FP: What do you keep talking to your non-striker continuously?
Raina: "Kuch nahi....Khaana kya khaana hai shyaam ko (Laughs)" [Nothing... what we are going to eat for dinner]. We generally discuss how he should play, how he should enjoy. We talk to each other, ask what we are thinking and feeling. Which bowler he is comfortable with. He might say, I am comfortable with the left-armer, you play the right-arm bowler. These are the things you decide spontaneously on the ground. In one of Sachin Tendulkar's interviews he had said that when Waqar (Younis) was reversing, he gave Rahul Dravid specific instructions from the non-striker's end. All these things make a lot of difference. These small things become big success stories.
FP: Is there an added pressure that you have to guide the non-striker too?
Raina: It's not a pressure. Because he's also playing international cricket. It's our responsibility to help each other. That's why it's a team game.
FP: How do you juggle between an inexperienced youngster and an experienced batsman at the non-striker's end?
Raina: In the past we were at a stage when we were youngsters and batting with Rahul bhai, Dhoni bhai, Viru bhai and even Sachin paaji. They always tried to make you calm and absorbed the pressure. In between the overs, you continuously talked to them. Just be careful, enjoy yourself, back your instincts, play your natural game but at the same time, take up the responsibility, was the message. In this day and age, the pressure is in IPL too. There are players like Rishabh Pant, Ishan Kishan, Rahul Tripathi. So many players are there who have already learnt the art. So when we play with them, we also get to learn. But when you have to guide them, they listen to us because we've had the experience. "Kabhi kabhi, daal me namak kam hogaya to thoda daalna padta hai (smiles)" [If sometimes you find there is less salt in your food, you have to add it.]
FP: So you get to learn from youngsters too?
Raina: Absolutely. Look at the IPL 2017 final, everyone thought Rising Pune Supergiant will win but Mumbai Indians came back so strongly. That's cricket. The game will always teach you something each and every day.
FP: How do you decide which bowler to target?
Raina: When you are in the middle, you get that feel. It's not pre-decided.
FP: There is an urge to go on the attack when a part-time bowler comes in to bowl....
Raina(Interrupts): "Aise kaise maru bhai (laughs)" [How can I start hitting just like that?]
FP: If rest of the bowlers are bowling well...
Raina (Interrupts again): Kyu, unki bhi to pitayi hogi baadme (laughs). [Why, they can also get hit later.]
FP: How difficult is it to control the urge when the team is in dire situations and the part-timers are in operation?
Raina: At that time you have to be careful too. They are brought into operation to entice the batsmen into doing something. During that time there is more responsibility. Play out two-three balls. They will be taken to the cleaners, no doubt. But it's important that you have to play cautiously at that time. The bowler is also under pressure and the reputation of the batsman plays a role too. The bowler thinks that he's an attacking player and will surely go after me. So then he tries to save himself and in process bowls awry lines and gives away runs. I have been a part-timer myself and have experienced it.
FP: So then do you play mind games with the bowlers?
Raina: Absolutely. You have your own tactics. While chasing, you pick your hitting areas. You have to show the bowler something else and do something else. Just like the bowler, the batsman has to bluff too. This comes slowly with experience when you play under pressure.
FP: How important a role does the crowd play for a finisher?
Raina: It does make a lot of difference. When you get lots of blessings and praise from the fans, you get motivated. When you walk out to bat there are people chanting your name, applauding fours and sixes or a brilliant catch or a run out. It always instills motivation. It makes a lot of difference, definitely. Indian fans are everywhere in the world. Whenever we've played away, we haven't felt like we are playing overseas. In the 2015 World Cup we had brilliant support in the game against Pakistan in Adelaide and then when we played against Australia in the semi-final, Michael Clarke said, please wear a yellow jersey, so that we can determine who is Indian and who is Australian! That way we are lucky as Indians. I think our population has been amazing. We've been getting a lot of support in each and every country. In a way we are blessed and that's why all the players have been so successful in international cricket.
FP: Does it create a negative impact sometimes?
Raina: I don't think so.
FP: Don't the crowd chants and roar add to the pressure?
Raina: Gaav wale log hai yaar, hume support mila to aag laga denge (smiles). [They are the home crowd, if they support us, we can set the stage on fire.]
FP: What makes Mahendra Singh Dhoni such a brilliant finisher?
Raina: He's been very calm under pressure. He does (make) mistakes when the bowler thinks he is done. When the bowler thinks I have had his number, then he will start his brain. So he is way ahead of the bowler. That's what made him so successful. I have batted with him for so many years. I have batted with him at five, six, seven, we have chased at nine, 10, 11 per over. We've been complementing each other really well. I tell him I will hit him (a particular bowler), he will say just have a look at him first. I tell him you play the sheet anchor's role. Then sometimes, I feel that he will go after the bowling, so at that time he will say you play your natural game and I will attack. In the 2015 World Cup game against Zimbabwe in Hamilton, we were down in the dumps at 92/4 chasing 288 but still we didn't give up our natural game. I kept on attacking, he was absorbing the pressure and then he took the aggressive approach and I slowed down. So we complement each other really well. (Raina scored 110 not out and Dhoni remained unbeaten on 85). I know his nature. If I go after the bowling, he won't stop me. When you spend so much of time on and off the field, you get a lot of confidence from your captain, teammate and most importantly, your friend. Because you know he will never misguide you.
FP: Does he do something different in the nets?
Raina: Nothing different. But he does 'death' overs batting practice. The 'Helicopter' shot, scoop and other shots. Hitting a six is not easy, you have to face a minimum of 1,000 balls and hit 700 of them. So in the match if you get three 'six' balls, you can convert two of them at least. There is a lot of practice involved.
FP: What's the best advice you received from him?
Raina: Just be yourself. Enjoy yourself. Cricket is all about enjoyment. If you don't enjoy then stop playing. That's what I have learnt from not only the likes of Dhoni but Sachin (Tendulkar), (Virender) Sehwag as well. When he (Sehwag) scored a double hundred, he asked me to pad up and said, "Peheli ball se maarna hai humko." [We have to hit from the first ball itself.] He was batting on 160, I played only one ball. You get a lot of support to play your natural game.
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