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The Rediff Special/Harish Kotian in Bangalore
Raina reigns from the ranks
July 18, 2005
Uttar Pradesh youngster Suresh Raina, who was named in the 15-man squad for the upcoming tri-series in Sri Lanka, will be the first Kashmiri Pandit to don India colours.
Fast becoming one of the most-talked about names in Indian cricket, Raina was ecstatic after being selected in the team for the One-Day International series, also involving the hosts and the West Indies, later this month.
"I was expecting the call since I did well in the practice matches last week and the domestic season," he said.
"I am now looking forward to the tournament and will give it my best," he added.
The left-hander, just 18, is giving his heart out at the on-going conditioning camp at the National Cricket Academy in Bangalore and has impressed coach Greg Chappell and many senior Indian players.
"Rahul Dravid is my idol. I always look up to him and have learnt a lot from him. He always gives me a lot of tips like 'stay at the wicket', 'don't throw your wicket away', which is very encouraging," he told rediff.com in an exclusive interview.
Raina, who has come through the ranks, first made headlines in the Under-19 World Cup, in Bangladesh last year. He scored 247 runs in seven matches, at 35.28, and also picked five wickets in the tournament.
"We lost in the semi-finals of the Under-19 World Cup to Pakistan. If we would have won the World Cup, then some of the guys would have been a part of this Indian team by now," he says.
His performances did not go unnoticed though, and he was selected for training at the Australian Cricket Academy, under the Border-Gavaskar Scholarship.
"It was a great learning experience in Australia. We were coached by Allan Border and current West Indies coach Bennett King.
"We had a great time there as the facilities were much better. The wickets were good and we worked a lot on backfoot shots like the cut and the pull," Raina said.
He also had a productive season in domestic cricket, scoring 482 runs for Uttar Pradesh in the 2004-05 Ranji Trophy season.
He also finished as the top scorer in the Deodhar Trophy, amassing 310 runs in four matches, at 77.50. He scored a century and two half-centuries at an amazing strike rate of 108.01, which made everyone stand up and take notice of his talent and strokeplay.
He went to England in April and played for the Manchester-based Astley & Tyldesley Cricket Club in the Lancashire League. He displayed great form, scoring 865 runs in 12 matches, inclusive of four centuries, and also grabbed 32 wickets.
Such was the impact he made in England that the club's web site ran a small report on his departure.
It read: 'We wish him all the best in his quest for superstardom in India's international set up and hope to see him soon.'
Raina says he is placing a lot of emphasis on fielding and fitness.
"Fielding is very important for all cricketers now. You can only survive at the top if you are a good fielder. I spend a lot of time on my fielding."
Raina, who was born in Ghaziabad, lives at the Lucknow Sports Hostel since the last six years.
"I just go home during the vacations for a week or so and then I come back," he says, stressing that cricket is priority for him at the moment.
"My target is now to perform well whenever I get a chance to play for my country."