If a small-town lad can succeed in sport, so can you: Suresh Raina

Suresh Raina grew up in a small town, Muradnagar, but dreamt big. The left-handed batsman was a teenager when he left home in pursuit of his goals, enrolling himself in the Lucknow Sports Hostel. He has worked hard to give expression to his talent

MANJUNATH KIRAN / AFP

Though he would have loved to figure in more than the 18 Tests – remember he scored a century on debut – in a competitive middle-order, Raina’s 223 one-day international appearances during which he has scored 5568 runs at close to run-a-ball pace speak eloquently about his hunger to do well for India. To top it all, he has led India in a dozen of those games.

“I am sure youngsters will be motivated by the fact that small-towner like me has represented India for so long. The values I got coming from a small town have certainly helped me. I believe that if you work hard for something, you will definitely succeed. All this, along with having the right people around you can really help one achieve their dreams,” he says.

“Cricket helped me become independent, my decision-making when the chips are down and made me a tougher person. When I had the ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) injury many years ago, it changed my life. This game is tough no doubt and has taught me lot of good things in life,” Raina says, turning his focus on the benefits of playing a sport that he so loves.

Excerpts from an interview:

Who has been your inspiration?

It is Rahulbhai (Dravid) who incidentally, also gave me my first Test cap. He is a great cricketer and wonderful human being. I have learnt a lot from sharing the dressing room with him, his focus and the way he conducts himself. Rahulbhai works as hard as ever even now and is still associated with the game. The India Under-19 team will benefit greatly with him as coach. I have admired him since my under-19 days. It’s not only me, but also my under-19 teammates like Ambati Rayudu, Irfan Pathan, VRV Singh and Dinesh Karthik who have looked up to him. His experience will be of great value to cricket administration.

EMMANUEL DUNAND / AFP

Who was your inspiration early in your life?

I looked up to my brother, growing up, and have played a lot of tennis-ball cricket in the early days. I played a lot in Lucknow and spent three years in a hostel in Gomti Nagar. Then I got an Air India scholarship which took me to Mumbai where I played quite a lot with the likes of Hrishikesh Kanitkar, Narendra Hirwani, Irfan Pathan, RP Singh and Robin Uthappa. Everybody dreams of becoming a Sachin Tendulkar. I came to Mumbai with dreams of making it big. After finishing my education from Lucknow University, I landed in Mumbai, focused a lot on my game, turning out in tournaments like the Times Shield, Kanga League etc. I realised that I could make it to the Indian team in any format. The journey in Mumbai was really special. Credit to Air India for working hard on my development and to all the coaches that I have worked with, people like Pravin Amre, Kanitkar and Hirwani among several others. My Ranji teammates like Mohammed Kaif, Rizwan Shamshad, Mrityunjay Tripathi, Shalabh Srivastava and so many more who have helped me during different stages of my career.

You have become an inspiration to others...

I am still quite young and try to enjoy as much as possible. I enjoy interacting with youngsters and there are a lot of talented youngsters in the Uttar Pradesh team today. When I was young, getting to practice with the likes Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag was a major accomplishment in itself! I derive happiness from small things and never dreamt that I would play so many games for India. I haven’t played many Test matches and intend to improve on that front.

You have travelled around India playing for the National team, your Ranji side and other tournaments. Do you think there’s enough talent in the country to dominate world cricket?

There is and Virat Kohli is a prime example of that. Today, youngsters look up to the likes of Kohli, Dhoni, Yuvraj and even me, as a source of inspiration. The IPL has been a boon to cricketers in India as domestic players get to rub shoulders with the big names of world cricket. Playing against and sharing a dressing room with quality players such as Tendulkar, Shane Warne, Ricky Ponting, Michael Hussey, Stephen Fleming to name a few, can be a great learning experience for our players. I had played around 30-40 ODIs till the IPL began in 2008 and after taking part in it, my mindset changed completely. The approach, thinking and strategising, all of it took a completely different turn for good. It helped me improve me as a person and my performances in the Asia Cup became better. I also learned to become a better traveller with the side in different conditions and gave me an opportunity to learn from my seniors to train well and play good, hard cricket. I learned to stay motivated in whatever format or class I am playing, be it international, domestic or club cricket.

What do you tell youngsters taking to the game now?

They need to be focussed and disciplined towards the game, like I mentioned about Rahulbhai earlier. Just think of Rahul Dravid as an example and you will do well not only in cricket but also in other walks of life. Also, one should remember that there are no shortcuts in life – work hard, respect the game, respect seniors and your teammates. This will help in whatever you do and not just cricket! I tell them if Suresh Raina from Muradnagar can do it, you can too!

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