Gujarat Lions skipper Suresh Raina has been the most successful batsman in IPL history. He’s been one of Chennai Super Kings’ mainstays over the last eight editions. However, with CSK being suspended for two years due to their involvement in spot-fixing, Raina will be donning the jersey of Gujarat Lions. TOI caught up with the captain of the Rajkot-based franchise after a GP Petroleums launch event, where he spoke about the challenges of moving to a new team, the influence of MSD and how stints with Pravin Amre in Mumbai made him the cricketer that he is. Excerpts.
Gujarat Lions looks like a strong side. The tournament is yet to begin and your side is being touted as favourites.
I guess it’s the Chennai Super Kings effect (smiles). There are so many from the CSK here. Yes, the team looks very good, it’s a great mix. All of us are just about beginning to get together. Some have already reached Rajkot, the rest are on their way. We will have two days of practise in Gujarat, then the opening ceremony in Mumbai, and then it all begins. McCullum, Faulkner, Bravo, Finch, Smith add to the batting might. In fact, in Faulkner, we have such a good all-rounder. There’s Ravindra Jadeja who is around too.
What about Shivil Kaushik? There’s quite a buzz about him.
Yes we are going to have our share of surprises too. Shivil Kaushik certainly seems to be a find. He bowls Chinaman, like South Africa’s Paul Adams and he’s so young – just 20 years old. Dhaval Kulkarni is another good option. He’s been a proven performer in the domestic circuit. Amit Mishra, Shadab Jakati and Jadeja add to the spin options.
The CSK crux has moved to Rajkot barring MSD.
The core of CSK has assembled in Gujarat. To top it, we have Brad Hodge as coach, a real uncanny brain in this format. He’s done really well for Rajasthan Royals (IPL) and Adelaide Strikers (Big Bash).
How difficult is it going to be playing for another franchise after eight years?
It’s not been easy and it’s not going to be easy on us (CSK bunch) anytime soon either. It’s like leaving one family and going to another. No matter how much love you get in this new family, how can you let go of all the love you received over the last eight years from the Chennai family. The city had become a second home to all of us. Ek ghar mein aath saal rahe ho, ab bola, jaa kiss doosre ghar mein do saal raho (we lived in one house for eight years and now we’re told to live in another house for two years). It’s not easy.
It’s not like there was an option.
Of course. We’re professional cricketers and we have to go about doing what we have to do. It’s not just about how passionate the players have been about CSK. There’s also the loyalty factor. We had that kind of a feeling wearing the CSK jersey. It makes us feel bad. It’s not like players wouldn’t like to play for say Gujarat or Mumbai but I wish there was a choice and we could decide. For example, UP ke liye khel rahe hain, ab UP ki team nahi hai to chalo Delhi ke liye khelte hain. Ek connect rahega (We’re playing for UP, then one day, there’s no UP team so we look at Delhi, let’s say, so that there’s a certain connect). There was no choice like this available.
It’s ironical that a cricketer from the north of India has fallen so much in love with a city in south India. How big a challenge will it be for you to now move to the west?
Yes, now it’s like moving into a different world – coming from north, finding home in the south and now having to move to the west. New team, new team owners, new coaches, new home ground – so yes, lot of challenges to look forward to. We were superstars in Chennai and to understand what I’m saying, one had to be there to see it. It was almost like a different cult, a different religion and we were treated like gods.
And to top it, you’re now the captain of this new team.
That’s the easy part. Captaincy makes your life easy in a tournament like the IPL. Most are senior international professionals, some of them international captains. So in a way, most of them know how exactly to go about their tasks. Once you get to know your best eleven, you begin to settle down. And with the kind of coaching staff we’re putting together, we will be on track to give our best. That’s exactly how we went about with our cricket in CSK.
So, did you’ll get a farewell at CSK?
We used to have a get-together every year because we never knew who would be retained after a particular season and who wouldn’t be. So there was a get-together every year. Look at it this way, the crux of the entire unit is now based out of Rajkot or Pune. So, at least there’s some connect.
So, CSK players are going to be pitted against CSK players when Rajkot and Pune clash.
Yeah, and trust me it’s going to be a great contest. We’ve all been through tough situations, won handsomely, felt very disappointed after losses and built a great connect. We all understand each other well – strengths, weaknesses etc. So, it’s going to be interesting and emotional.
What’s the mood like for all senior India cricketers heading into the IPL after that semi-final loss in Mumbai.
I think we played some excellent cricket over the last few months before coming into the World T20. Even in the tournament, we played well but unfortunately couldn’t get past the semi-final. There were so many factors that weren’t in our favour – the toss, which saw us bowling second, so we had to deal with the dew and so on. But credit to the West Indies. It feels bad when a team has to cop criticism despite having played so well but we’ve learnt to accept it as part of our cycle and moving forward has always been the key. And IPL is always a different ballgame – new teams, new teammates, new goals – so the focus is completely different.
After eight years of playing under Dhoni, he’s now an opposition captain for you. You’ll surely have some secrets to share with teammates.
Oh yes, we’re already started being diplomatic with each other while discussing IPL. I’ve been looking at ways to ask him about his team’s preparations, he’s been doing the same. At dinner tables, at the nets, during practice, both of us are asking each other a lot of things but not revealing anything to each other (laughs).
So, who are the captains you’re going to draw inspiration from?
Well, Mohd Kaif, for starters, from my UP days. Virender Sehwag, I’ve always admired his leadership. And then, of course, MS. In fact, MS has been so happy for me and he was telling me how captaincy will add more responsibility on my shoulders and I could look forward to using that to my advantage to focus better. You don’t know where your destiny is going to take you, but it’s nice when you’ve been around with such accomplished individuals and there’s been so much to learn.