MS Dhoni and Suresh Raina are fondly called Thala and Chinna Thala, respectively, by their beloved Chennai Super Kings fans. But for ardent Indian cricket fans, the two are affectionately called 'Jai and Veeru' from the 'Sholay' fame, not just because of their partnership on the field, but also for the strong friendship the two have developed off the field.
Raina made his debut a year after Dhoni's maiden international appearance, under the captaincy of Rahul Dravid. But Raina truly emerged as a match-winning talent under Dhoni's guidance, but first in CSK colours. Both were part of the Chennai-based franchise since 2008, while sharing two seasons apart due to the match-fixing scandal.
In the early years of T20 cricket, the general perception among most captains whilst fielding was to keep more pacers in the attack who were deployed across the powerplays and death overs leaving the middle overs for the spinners. But Dhoni always preferred the other way round. According to ESPNCricinfo, during the first three seasons of the IPL, CSK roughly bowled nine balls of spin in the death overs (17 to 20) every innings. And Raina was among the options, along with R Ashwin and Muttiah Muralitharan, that Dhoni used even while he was just a part-time bowler. In fact, Raina picked 14 wickets in the period at 26.57. (Also Read | MS Dhoni: A demigod who revolutionized Indian cricket for the better)
One of the most memorable matches involving this tactic of Dhoni's is the match against Kings XI Punjab at Kingsmead in 2009 where CSK spinners rallied to help the team successfully defend the lowest total in IPL history. The trio reduced KXIP from 32 for one to 92 for eight as they returned with combined figures of 12-0-38-6. Raina had finished with 2/17.
Raina's best performance as a death-over bowler came in the Champions League T20 match against Victoria in 2010 when he picked two wickets in the 18th over and two more at the start of the 20th before combining with Dhoni to complete a last-ball run-out to enforce a Super Over. CSK had eventually fallen short in the tie-breaker, nevertheless, it was a victory for CSK in its own manner. (Also Read | MS Dhoni – The Pioneer of India’s rise from the ashes of 2007 ODI World Cup debacle)
Raina slowly emerged as one of Dhoni's potent weapons in limited-overs cricket with his all-round ability making him a standout and proving as a factor in his World Cup 2011 selection. However, through the first half of the tournament, Raina remained on the bench with the captain preferring Yusuf Pathan over him. But all until the group tie against West Indies. Raina ably supported Yuvraj Singh in the successful run chase scoring 34 off 28 and also played a crucial knock of 36 runs alongside the tail end in the semifinal against Pakistan.
It was in the same year that Raina earned a Test recall and while he failed to live up to the expectation, he was involved in an impressive 169-run stand alongside Dhoni at Lord's in an ODI match against England. The partnership, en route to which he scored a classy 84, helped India revive from 110 for four to 279 for five before victory came along their way.
The partnership was one among the 10-century stand that the two stalwarts have shared in international cricket, overall managing a partnership tally of 4354 runs at 48.37. This run tally includes 3484 runs in the ODI format itself which is the most by any pair for the fourth wicket or below in the format. They have overall batted 71 times in one-day matches for the fourth wicket or below and average 57.11 with nine-century stands.
Raina and Dhoni were however separated for a period of two years owing to suspension of CSK. Raina joined Gujarat Lions and was named as the captain of the franchise, Dhoni led Rising Pune Supergiants. Even for the national team, they batted alongside each other only thrice in these two years.
Gujarat finished at the top of the table in 2016 but lost both the playoff ties while Pune finished seventh. However, in 2017, Pune finished second and then reached the final before losing to Mumbai Indians while Lions finished in the bottom end.
Raina and Dhoni both struggled during these two seasons. After finishing seventh in the 2016 season, Dhoni was removed from captaincy besides also struggling to find form with the bat. Raina, on the other hand, had a torrid 2016 season averaging 28.50 while being criticised for his captaincy in the 2017 season. Moreover, in these two seasons, Raina was ineffective as a bowler managing only one wicket at an average of 184.
They eventually reunited in the following season with CSK retaining both the players and lifted the IPL trophy in their comeback campaign and together inspiring the team to another title realisation in the following year although in a defeat in the final.
On Saturday, the two, Jai and Veeru, announced their international retirement, just minutes to separate, through social media.
Together they walked in, created a strong pair, won matches, created history and together bid adieu to the sport.