Suresh Raina wins over fans off the field too with his effusive charm

Suresh Raina’s t-shirt reads ‘Prepare. Attack. Destroy.’ That perhaps is his frame of mind when he walks into the field. We are all huddled inside the Adidas showroom in Phoenix Market City. Only journalists, photographers and winners of a contest run by the brand are allowed inside the store… the “privileged few” as a fan waiting outside the store puts it. The cricketer arrives and within seconds he is engulfed by his fans. All we can see is a tuft of his spiked hair. The next few minutes are spent signing cricket bats and t-shirts for the winners. A bespectacled little girl whines about not being able to meet him. Her father pushes her though the crowd to where the cricketer is standing. He obliges.

A few minutes later its time for a quick (read five minutes) interview. First he is whisked away to a secret location (behind a giant Adidas banner) and then we are escorted there. As we start talking, a few people get busy trying to fix a table fan. The fan whirls, security personnel gaze alertly, photographers go on an overdrive, and others look on wide-eyed. It really feels like being in the middle of the Colosseum. No wonder the feisty stroke player looks a tad befuddled. But he should be used to dealing with tense situations considering that most of CSK’s matches have heart-stopping finishes. “Yes,” smiles Raina and adds, “The heart’s doing well but my nails are chewed up. When we sit in the dugout and watch the nerve wracking finishes we tend to chew on our nails. The match depends on the player batting and if he can deliver what the team needs,” he says.

Raina has been a permanent in the CSK team since 2008. Six years on what changes does he see? “I have improved as a person and player. We are one of the best teams with talented local cricketers such as Baba Aparajith and Vijay Shankar, and we put in a lot of hard work as a unit. We share tips with the new lot of players. We even had a team dinner last week,” he says.

With Chennai now becoming his second home, he has often been spotted whizzing across the city in his newly acquired yellow Porsche Boxter Limited Edition. “I drive to ECR and I know the way to the stadium as well. I even drove back from the airport a few weeks back with Jaddu (Ravindra Jadeja).”

And which is his favourite hang out here? “I recently went to the Flying Elephant and really liked it. The food is great and so is the ambience.”

By now one of the managers is getting a bit jumpy. “Ma’am last question” he announces. Fumbling through my list of questions I go with — So, during the IPL how strange does is feel playing against your friends and team mates? He laughs and says, “After six editions, ab toh aadat ho gayi hai. Ek josh hota hai andar se. The josh to win and that takes us through the games.”

With that the interview ends. I looked relieved. He looks relieved. But his relief is only temporary till the next reporter walks up to him with her arsenal of questions.

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Raina in the cityApril 28, 2013