Remembering the journey from Sonu to Suresh Raina

Not enough to give wings to his son Suresh’s cricketing dreams. But, more than two decades after those days of struggle, riding hard work, determination and luck, Raina ended his professional career as an international cricketer recently with plenty of success.

Around the time when he was dreaming of making a career out of playing cricket, the fees in sports academies in Delhi would range from Rs 5000 to Rs 8000 a month. And the Raina family, comprising eight members, found itself in a fix till it came to know of the Guru Gobind Singh Sports College in Lucknow.

The rest, as they say, is history. “Papa was in the Army, my elder brother is also in the Army. Papa used to make bombs in an ordnance factory. He was a master at that,” Raina said of his father on The Slow Interview by Neelesh Misra.

“He looked after the families of soldiers who had died. His was a very emotional work. This was tough, making sure that the money orders went and they received all the government benefits that they were eligible for,” Raina, nickname Sonu, said.

Looking to provide a safe environment to his family, Trilokchand had left everything in Rainawari in Jammu and Kashmir following the killings of Kashmir Pandits in the 1990s.

But, having settled down in UP’s Muradnagar, life was far from easy for the Raina family. “It always felt that his principle in life was if you live – live for others. If you only live for yourself — that’s no living.

“I used to play and there was no money then. Papa earned ten thousand rupees. We were five brothers and one sister. Then I came for trial in the Guru Gobind Singh Sports College in Lucknow in 1998. We could not manage 10000 at that time.

“The fee was Rs 5000 for a year so papa said this he could afford. I did not want anything, I said let me play and study.”

Raina says he is always wary of saying anything that would remind his father about the tragedy in Kashmir. “There are certain things that my father doesn’t want to remember, what happened with Kashmiri brahmins. So papa thought it better to take his family to a safe environment, that was one of the toughest decisions that papa made.”

“He had a house there and his brothers. It was a wise decision, he had four sons and then I was born.”

And even though he had been to Kashmir in recent years, Raina did not disclose it to his family, especially his father. “I have been two to three times to the LOC. I went with Mahi bhai, we have quite a few friends who are commandos.

“So, whenever there were shows I wouldn’t tell him. I was afraid. Afraid that he might relive it in his mind. And that he would worry that something would happen to me because he had seen the dangers there himself.”

Moving to cricket, Raina recalled an advice Sachin Tendulkar and MS Dhoni gave them as they began preparations for the 2011 World Cup — not share any national team tactics with their IPL teammates from abroad.

“Dhoni started this, Sachin Tendulkar also said don’t reveal anything to anyone, because the World Cup was coming up. This started in 2008-09. In 2008, we won the tri-nation series in Australia. In 2009, we won in New Zealand. In 2010 we won in Sri Lanka. And then the World Cup.”

He was full of praise for batting great Rahul Dravid, saying his contribution to Indian cricket is second to none.

“Rahul Dravid contributed a lot to Indian cricket’s winning run from 2008 to 2011. He was a very strong leader and he was very disciplined. He does his work and doesn’t care about the fruits, but I do feel that the fruits that the Indian team got were because of his hard work. That’s a very good definition of him.”

As far as his mentor Dhoni is concerned, Raina said what set the just-retired two-time World Cup winning captain apart was his honesty and selfless attitude.

“He is a very big captain. And he is a very good friend. And what he has achieved in the game I think he is the world’s number one captain. He is also the world’s best human being. Because he is very down to earth.

“His deeds are good. I have spent millions of days with him, travelling, playing and he is very honest with his team. His honesty shows in his game. When he plays for the country, he always has his 10 men ahead and he stays behind. He is selfless.”

Raina followed Dhoni into international retirement, with both deciding to call it quits on the same day.

Raina added, “Dhoni ensured that the players don’t get distracted by all the fame and money. He sat with the team, discussed our performance, how to stay humble, he became a big brand.

“But he showed us how to do our work and perform. I could tell from his eyes that it’s two runs.”

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