CSK have played like a champion side: Suresh Raina

Despite his dwindling experience in the international career for almost 13 years, Raina has always been a favourite player when it comes to his IPL franchise Chennai Super Kings.

Cricket news: After coming back to the IPL, we have played like a true champion team, says Raina

The success of both CSK and Raina have always gone hand-in-hand. CSK has been a legend T20 franchise with two IPL trophies and two Champions League T20 titles to their name.

Raina has been an IPL legend, gathering a massive 4855 runs from 172 matches which boasts of an average of nearly 34 and a strike rate of almost 140.

With CSK’s return to the mainstream of the league after two-year ban, Raina has also found his lost touch as he already scored over 300 runs which includes three half-centuries and has a strike rate of over 135. He has been really influential in helping CSK cement their position in the final-four of IPL 2018.

Raina said in an interview to TOI Sports, “We (CSK) have done really well. Some of the boys have really chipped in and taken the responsibility and that is why every game we have played, we have played it like a champion side. We have played our matches with a fearless approach.”

He however pointed out the fact that his team lack some aspects when it comes to fielding, and is hopeful that the team will overcome this problem and feature in the finals of the tournament.

“I do think we need to improve our fielding a bit, an area that our coach and captain have pointed out this season,” said Raina. “We need to hold on to our catches and manage to get more run-outs. Getting into the play-offs, we need to step the game up a notch. We just need to go out there and play like the champion team that we are. The real test of the tournament begins now, since every team is fighting for the third and fourth spots and no team is going to make it any easy for us. Hopefully, we’ll play the final in Mumbai.”

Raina’s record 158-match streak ended when he suffered from a calf injury and was forced to be benched. But after that he came into the team and scored three half-centuries. Although two of those came in a losing cause, yet it focussed on his will not to let go of the contention for the national team just yet.

“I’ve been batting really well. I missed out one game because of the injured calf. I wasn’t in the right frame of mind back then because I thought it will take at least three weeks to recover. So every time I stepped onto the field, I had to work really hard on my calf. But thanks to our doctors for managing it so well that I ended up missing just one game,” Raina said.

“I’ve been hitting the ball well; scored a couple of fifties and more importantly, the team has qualified so that’s a good feeling. We have a couple of more games to go and hopefully I can help in the team’s cause.”

CSK were banned for two years from IPL for matters off the field, but in 2018 they were welcomed back with plenty of emotions. The core of the team was retained and Raina believed that it was primary challenge to figure out whether the team had what it takes to succeed even after two years.

“I think the biggest challenge for us was to maintain the standard at which CSK have performed. And since we have secured a play-off berth, I assume we have lived up to the reputation of CSK being one of the strongest IPL sides,” he said.

“Apart from the players, I think we have a wonderful coaching staff too that are equally critical to our success this season. We have a player from Tamil Nadu, who is our bowling coach. Then we have Michael Hussey, who has been a match-winner for Australia for so many years, and now is our batting coach. And obviously, then you have MS [Dhoni].

“So we have all these guys, who you’ve played with, shared the dressing room, flights and had numerous meetings with. You need someone who can give you the right sort of approach. We have a core group that always believes we can win from any situation, and heading into the play-offs, every team needs that belief,” he said.

Raina captained the Gujarat Lions in 2016 and 2017 season, scoring 399 and 442 runs respectively. Although Gujarat led the league table and exited during the play-offs in the first season, yet the franchise fell flat the year later.

This happened due to the injuries to Dwayne Bravo, who missed the entire season, while James Faulkner and Ravindra Jadeja missed the early part of the season. However Raina feels that he has gained a lot as a leader despite his team’s failures.

“It [leading Gujarat Lions] helped a lot in changing the outlook of my game. I’ve captained the Indian side, UP side, Air India side, and now in the IPL. I think the best thing that happened in Gujarat was that I had the same group of guys which I did in CSK, the likes of Brendon McCullum, Dwayne Bravo and others. So nothing changed much,” said Raina. “When I was with Gujarat, I just needed to sit with all these quality players, form the team and make the decisions. And all these guys were always present to offer help along the way. Overall, the captaincy stint with Gujarat made me a lot wiser.”

After the season with Gujarat, Raina’s form dropped and he was removed from the limited overs cricket from the national team. Matters worsened when he just scored 105 runs in five Ranji matches with average of 11.66.

But later in January he came back to form in Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy with a 49-ball century against Bengal, and scored three more half-centuries. As a result he was called for the T20 side that toured South Africa.

“It was an important knock (126* against Bengal). I was representing my state and I hadn’t gotten among the runs. I was getting out on the first or the second ball, so scoring a hundred against Bengal in Kolkata came at the right time and it was very pleasing. After the match, I and Harbhajan [Singh] went to Sourav Ganguly’s place for dinner. We had a discussion about how he made a comeback to the Indian team in 2006. I was in the same boat as his back then. That pep talk was extremely helpful and luckily, I was drafted back into the T20 team and did well against South Africa and Sri Lanka,” Raina said.

Raina’s primary aim is to win the IPL again with CSK for the third time. Apart from that he will look to cement his place in the national side, with just a year left for the World Cup and there is still an opening in the Indian middle order.