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May the four be with you

by Gaurav Sethi

Over to Raina, Yuvraj, Jadeja and Dhawan

Even before Suresh Raina had faced a ball in the third Twenty20 against Australia, this tweet was sent:
In the recent ODI series against South Africa, Raina had fallen to extravagant shots way too early in his innings against leg spinner, Imran Tahir. Raina was dismissed by Tahir on the third and second deliveries he faced for 3 and 0, on both occasions trying to hit out.
Facing leg spinner, Cameron Boyce’s second delivery, Raina came down the wicket aiming to deposit the ball in the Sydney Opera House.  Instead, wicketkeeper, Cameron Bancroft missed a note and a stumping. Raina st Cameron b Cameron 0(2) was not to be.

Rain went on to play some fine angles behind the wicket. While one century and two fifties fell short, Raina’s 49 took India across the line.

Often because of his Test career, Raina appears to be a rookie. He made his ODI debut over 15 years back. He’s played over 220 games. His batting average may only be 35 but he strikes at nearly 94. Dhoni has often spoken of how Raina is one of the few players who can hit the big shot from the get go. Lately, Dhoni even defended Raina’s dismissals against Imran Tahir.

Dhoni has and continues to believe in Raina. In the Srinivasan era, this belief in Raina meant a confirmed ODI spot. Off late, not so hunky dory. After the defeat in Bangladesh, quite a few regulars, including Raina, were rested and Ajinkya Rahane was made captain for the Zimbabwe tour.  After the series loss against South Africa, Raina was not picked for the one-day series against Australia.

Raina’s lack of one-day form though has not been confused with his value as a T20 player. By now you would’ve heard VVS Laxman wax ineloquent on Suresh Raina being the highest run scorer in the IPL.

That’s the least of it. His T20 international average and strike rate are nearly as high as his IPL numbers and he has a high percentage of not outs, so you can expect him to close matches. Raina adds value as a fielder (you don’t need VVS to tell you that) and will turn his arm round in Indian conditions. And by now you would know, Dhoni doesn’t want one dimensional cricketers but players who have an added skill, “like Raina like Yuvraj, who can bowl that one or two overs if need be”.

Yuvraj Singh’s international strike rate is 12 more than his domestic one – 144 to 132 – his international average is 5 more than his domestic one, 32 to 27. And you don’t need VVS or Dhoni to tell you what he’s won India. While Yuvraj has often fallen short of expectations for his IPL franchises, it has little bearing on the hopes he raises when playing for India.

So does India pick Yuvraj on a prayer? Or to tease his dad? Or to tease themselves? In the course of his first hit in the middle, it shifted from baffling to becoming, when dots added up, only to be cleaned out, with a flick for four and a smack for six.

Oh, Yuvi.

He bowled in all three games and dismissed Glenn Maxwell twice even before either bowler or batsman could settle in. Unlike the other left arm spinner, Ravindra Jadeja, who can crank it up to Kumblelike speeds, Yuvraj is slow, and the ball seems to reach the other end, almost belatedly.

So far it has all been about Jadeja’s bowling, the batting hasn’t been tested for a while - his highest score is 25, average less than 10, strike rate less than 90. Slated to bat after Hardik Pandya at eight, Jadeja’s batting wasn’t required in the series. In the IPL though, Jadeja can be a bully with the bat, recall his early days at Rajasthan Royals or that match when he laid siege on the Mumbai Indians? He scored 25 off 11 balls to undermine Sachin Tendulkar’s only T20 century.

It’s debatable whether Jadeja can still close games like Faulkner used to; what, these days even Faulkner can’t. Just as Yuvraj and Raina are batting allrounders to stretch it, Jadeja is very much a bowler first. The World Twenty20 on Indian tracks is a godsend for Jadeja. He could be one of the players of the tournament with a Swisslike precision with his bowling, fielding off his own bowling (refer Watson caught and bowled in second T20), diving catches in the outfield (refer Lynn catch in third T20) and of course, do reference all those missile throws from the deepest boundary outposts.

From ‘rockstar’ to ‘sir’, Jadeja continues to evolve, and unlike most modern cricketers, he really does let his cricket and VVS speak for himself. Possibly, by the end of this World T20, Jadeja would earn himself another nickname.

Perhaps the most worrisome left handed batsman of the lot is Shikhar Dhawan. As an opener in 11 matches, he’s yet to score a half century. To his credit, the sample size of 11 matches is small and he did make his highest score, 42, in this series; he followed it with a whacking 29 off just 9 balls to set up the chase in real earnest. At his best, Dhawan is capable of homicidal batting, that too when the others seem to be failing collectively. As he’s often shown in the other formats, he can go through magical phases where he scores in clusters just like Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma are doing now. If either or both Kohli and Sharma go through a run drought, he could be the man to bail India out on top. The team management has backed him through some lean patches, and it’s obvious, Dhawan is India’s first choice opener along with Sharma.

When India won the World Twenty20 in 2007 they had three left handed batsmen: Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh, Irfan Pathan. This time they have four.

To paraphrase Star Wars, “May the four be with you”.

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