Raina, the first Indian cricketer to score centuries in all formats of the game in international cricket, believes the Rohit Sharma-led side needs to start the tournament well and after that, the rest of its campaign will fall in place in their quest to win just their second Men’s T20 World Cup after winning the inaugural edition of the tournament in 2007.
In an exclusive interview with IANS, Raina, named as the India brand ambassador for Booking.com, the official accommodation booking partner for the T20 World Cup, spoke about travel as part of his life, the impact of the absence of Jasprit Bumrah and Ravindra Jadeja in India’s T20 World Cup campaign, Bhuvneshwar Kumar being the fast-bowling leader, playing in Australian conditions, and more.
Q. Since you are now associated with booking.com, I want to know how cricket has enabled you to explore the world and make travel an integral part of your life.
A. It’s been amazing and good to be a part of booking.com. We have been travelling a lot now and the whole of India is going for the World Cup. I have been travelling since 1994 and have travelled a lot. I have learnt a lot of things from travelling.
Since now I travel with my family, it’s important to ensure good accommodation, where the kids can enjoy themselves and my wife can have extra rest as after working so hard, everyone should travel the world as it gives you lots of lessons in life and gives you peaceful mind. It helps you to express yourself, spend time with your loved ones and that’s why I think booking.com thought Suresh Raina is a good guy to endorse with (laughs).
Q. Recently, former India head coach Ravi Shastri said if there was an area the Indian team must focus on ahead of the T20 World Cup, it is fielding. Do you agree with his views or feel the players in the current squad can save those vital runs on the field and take a majority of the catches well?
A. You need to practice well for the fielding. When you go for batting and bowling in the nets, I used to do one hour of fielding practice when I was playing. I used to take a lot of brilliant catches and hit lots of direct throws at the stumps. If I am able to do this in the practice, so when the ball comes to me in the match, I can definitely do two run-outs or take two brilliant catches.
You need to start all of this in practice. If you don’t take hard catches in practice, I don’t then expect anyone to do it in the game because when you are catching, there will be lots of lights, big grounds will be there and the ball will travel in the air. You just need to come under the line of the ball and assess the situation as the grounds are big and with the black sky, you might just lose the ball with lights around. You have to make sure that you take lots of catches in practice sessions, then everything will fall in place.
Q. Talking of the T20 World Cup, on October 23, India will be facing Pakistan in their Super 12 campaign opener. What are your views about this high-octane clash at the Melbourne Cricket Ground?
A. You just need to enjoy the game, to be honest. That’s what team India is going to do. The match will be in a very high-pressure manner. You just need to play 40 overs of good cricket as playing in Australia is different altogether. India has the edge because they have played a lot of matches there.
Rohit, Virat, KL (Rahul) and the bowlers have played lots of matches there and know how to use the conditions. So, this game will be very, very important for team India. If we win the first one, that will set the tone for us and then, all the other matches will be very, very good for us. India just need to start well and everything will fall into place.
Q. India will be without Jasprit Bumrah and Ravindra Jadeja in the T20 World Cup. According to you, how much will the impact of these two players be on the Indian team?
A. Though they have got injured, we still have got their replacements. I know you can’t replace them because, at the end of the day, you need to only think about the controllable things. Definitely, Shami comes in now and Axar Patel is also doing well. You need to have the right combination and which player you want to go with.
I would say the team is looking good now. They have gone to Australia very early, so they must be going through a lot of good processes and how to tackle the other teams. Sometimes it’s good to go early and can assess the situation and learn about it.
We have Suryakumar Yadav, then Rohit Sharma is a very good leader, Virat is in very, very good form now and Hardik Pandya will be the key member of the Indian team. He will bowl a couple of good overs in power-play, then he has to bat really well.
Then you have Arshdeep Singh, (Ravichandran) Ashwin and (Yuzvendra) Chahal. The KL Rahul-Rohit Sharma partnership will be crucial and you need to have that fearless intent to bat, then I think everything will fall into place.
Q. In Bumrah’s absence, Bhuvneshwar Kumar will be the leader of the bowling attack in the Indian team. As someone who has known him for many years, do you feel he can play the role of the pace spearhead and guide bowlers like Harshal Patel and Arshdeep Singh, who will be playing in Australian conditions for the first time?
A. Bhuvi is an experienced bowler. He has done really well. Sometimes you go for runs, but he still has that swing. He is still the go-to guy for the skipper because he always delivers when it mattered the most. When Virat scored a hundred, he also took five wickets against Afghanistan and bowled really well. He has that knuckleball, swing and he hits areas well.
Once you get that line and length, he knows how to execute those plans and he will do really well there because Australian conditions will give his knuckleball and variations help. Alongside Arshdeep and Harshal, Bhuvi will help them with his extra experience and will do really well for India.
Q. Rishabh Pant has been in and out of the T20I side in the last few matches for the Indian team. Moreover, he has batted either in the middle order or opened the batting. So, where do you see him fitting in India’s T20I scheme of things in the T20 World Cup and for the future as well?
A. He’s an important player. He has done it (made runs previously) in Australia. He’s scored hundreds there and won the Gabba Test for us. He’s an x-factor because if you see from 1-6, there’s no leftie batter.
So, how they are going to use him, it’s very important. He’s a very good player and knows how to bat in pressure situations. Hopefully, the management must be thinking about how to bring him in. So, in one or two games, you could see him playing again.
Q. Adding to this, where would you prefer to see Pant bat in T20Is? Will it be as an opener, one down, or in the middle order?
A. It depends on where his spot is coming from. It’s all upon Rahul (Dravid) bhai and Rohit (Sharma), and how they want to use him in the eleven. You just need to have a leftie batsman as an x-factor. I hope they will do it.
Q. You just now mentioned the need for a left-handed batter in a set of right-handers. Of late, having a left-hander is seen as an advantage for the batting side. I would like to know from you if that notion still holds lots of importance or if is it just being hyped.
A. It’s always there (the importance of a left-handed batter) as you might face a lot of left-arm spinners, leg-spinners, and left-arm fast bowlers. When a leftie comes, it is easy to rotate the strike, easy to distract the bowler, and easy to dominate the bowler. I have done that and it is what some of the biggest cricketers have also done that. So, it’s very important to have a leftie in the middle overs and we have that in the team, so hopefully, we will do really well.
Q. You have played a lot of matches for India in Australia. So, want to know from you about the required adjustments batters need to make to excel in Australian conditions.
A. I think it’s going to be summertime now, but there has been some rain and a bit of cold weather there. We have played two practice games and have two more to go. So, I think it’s better to stick to your processes, what you can control and what you can’t control.
It’s very important that in a tournament like the World Cup, you just need to be in a good frame of mind where you can really enjoy your game and can give your best shot to enjoy the World Cup. We have some people on the team who want to express themselves and Suryakumar (Yadav) seems to be that kind of guy.
Hardik Pandya also brings a lot of energy to the dressing room and Rohit Sharma is an astute leader, who has done things like this in the past and really enjoyed the captaincy as well as gives lots of chances to youngsters. The tournament will be very, very good for them.
Q. You just now mentioned about the cold weather in Australia right now. It brings to me that cricket isn’t played much in Australia in the months of October and November. So, do you think that brings an element of the unknown for all the teams heading into the T20 World Cup?
A. I think they must be having it this time only for the World Cup. Whatever the situation will be there and the weather conditions, you just need to win it for your country. Whoever is going to now play in the World Cup, you need to give it your best shot. At the end of the day, you are playing for your country. You just need to enjoy the process and give your best to experience the tournament and use that to win it for team India.
Q. You made your T20I debut in 2006 and have had starred in major victories for India. In your opinion, how much change has come in the way T20Is are played from the time of your debut to now?
A. It’s still the same. I think the cricket is still the same. But it is the approach that actually matters. Game toh same hi hain (Game is still the same), nothing has changed. It’s the pressure and how you handle it, that’s the quality of a player. Sometimes you have that character, sometimes you have that mental toughness.
The game is still played with the same ball and bat, but how you approach the game, that’s very, very important. We have got guys on the team who know how to handle the pressure and deliver in the big games. I hope they will go out there and win tons of matches for team India.