In a discussion about the Indian Premier League, the sheer consistency of the Chennai Super Kings is bound to come up. And in a discussion specifically about the Chennai Super Kings, the sheer consistency of Suresh Raina, the man often referred to as Mr IPL, is bound to come up.
His 87-run blitzkrieg off 25 deliveries against Kings XI Punjab in 2014 can go down as one of the greatest knocks in the IPL. In fact, the single-handed 33-run assault in an over that appeared to make a mockery of the 227-run target set by the opposition can go down as one of the most iconic IPL moments ever, even if it ended in defeat. In his 11-year-long career with CSK, he ensured a 350+ run season every year barring the 14th edition, keeping up with his reputation of being a team man.
During what proved to be a championship-winning campaign for CSK last year, Raina faltered by his standards and ended the season with 162 runs at an average of 17.78. He may have toiled hard to remain the team’s most vital cog, just behind MS Dhoni, for many many years but last year was an anomaly.
As of today, the game against Rajasthan Royals in October last year, was Raina’s last as a professional cricketer. He did not return to the domestic circuit in the following season.
CSK without Chinna Thala
The Chennai faithful have given MS Dhoni the title ‘Thala’ (head, in Tamil), a privilege that is not rewarded lightly but Raina too had done enough to be worthy of a similar privilege and the loyalty and affection of the dedicated fanbase. He became their ‘Chinna Thala’.
The mutual admiration for each other and bond was a huge part of what was dear to the franchise. Until last year, the franchise’s very active Twitter handle used to tease its fans with glimpses and pictures of the duo together, reiterating that the duo held CSK’s strong foundation together.
Bringing up this bromance time and again perhaps even ensured that there was no bad blood on social media after Raina had decided to skip the edition in 2020 and there were reports about things going sour between him and the management. His return to the franchise after that break meant all was well.
The numbers on the field, however, were not.
No bids for Raina
Cut to the fifteenth edition of the Indian Premier League, and things are probably not going to be the same ever again. And it is not just about the new sides or new look bit. Rather, the focus is on the absence of some of the biggest names in the league’s history - AB de Villiers, Chris Gayle, Amit Mishra and... Suresh Raina.
While the de Villiers announcement that came last year came as a bit of a surprise, the absence of the other names was, relatively, expected.
In Raina’s case, the cricketing logic tells us that considering his poor form in the last season and the lack of game time after that meant he would go unsold when his name first came up.
However, it was when CSK decided not to bid for their seasoned campaigner later on is when the reality hit. They had been bidding to bring back a lot of their own and they did manage to sign up Dwayne Bravo, Robin Uthappa and Ambati Rayudu, so it seemed like Raina wouldn’t be left out either.
Until the near-end of the event, there were hopes that his name would come up in the lists submitted by franchises for the accelerated auction, but the franchise that has unabashedly associated themselves with emotions when it came to its players, took a rather practical call and decided against doing so. As a result, at the very least, a pause button has been hit in Raina’s IPL career.
Chennai Super Kings CEO Kasi Vishwanath explained the reason behind not bidding for Raina on the franchise’s YouTube channel saying, “Raina has been one of the most consistent performers for CSK for the last 12 years. Of course, it was very difficult for us, not to have Raina but at the same time, you should also understand that the team composition depends on the form and kind of team which any team would like to have so that’s one of the reasons why we thought he may not fit into this team.”
What do the fans think?
A look at the comments section of the video, and you will know that his departure as a player seemed to be the primary talking point for a chunk of the fanbase after the IPL auction ended.
However, some fans also seemed to acknowledge it as a necessary or practical step.
Johns Benny, who is an ardent supporter of the franchise since the start, told Scroll.in, “Suresh Raina, the Mr IPL, goes unsold. These are words which I never thought will happen too quickly, before a few years ago. It’s sad as well as disappointing, he was the ‘Mr consistent’, the banker with 400+ runs in a season but always, every good thing comes to end and sadly the end was early for Raina. Wishing all the good luck for our Super King, wish to see him do something related to CSK in future.”
Vaishnavi Srinivasan, a software tester by profession who identifies herself as a fan of not just Raina but also the franchise itself said, “It obviously hurts to see the man not being considered in the squad given his relationship with this franchise. The reason for his exclusion, I feel, is that he has now retired from international cricket and is also not involved in the domestic set up in addition to not performing well in the last season. He was not like how he used to be, not the same old Raina.”
She added: “However, had the management communicated what’s expected out of him, then I’m sure he would’ve made those efforts to get him prepared for the coming season. To me, it looks like there’s something beyond his form or let alone cricket.”
According to her, it will be tough for CSK to groom someone to play the role of Raina played over the years, considering he had something to contribute in all three departments.
“For now they’ve got Moeen Ali, but it’s not the permanent solution,” said Srinivasan. “Someone from the domestic circuit should be trained for his role. I was hoping they would go for Ishan Kishan. In any case, there’s just one Chinna Thala and it’s Suresh Raina for us forever.”
However, law student Prashast Mishra, who tracks MS Dhoni and his moves closely, thinks that it may not be the end for Raina. If not as a player, he expects Raina to return to IPL and CSK in another capacity.
Mishra told Scroll.in, “They would have made it clear to him but he wanted to play so he went into the auction thinking some other team will buy him. I don’t think his time will end. He will be in the dugout someday soon, for sure. As a coach or mentor.”
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