New Delhi:The presence of a number of talented batsmen forced Suresh Raina to be confined to the reserve bench during the Australian tour, but the left-hander says the healthy competition for a middle-order slot had made him "mentally stronger" to regain his place in the Indian team.
The 21-year-old Raina, whom former coach Greg Chappell rated very highly, said being out of the team had helped him mature as a player and he was better prepared to "grab the opportunities" now.
Not getting to play a single match during the tri-series has not demoralised the young player who is willing to wait for his turn.
"There are lot of talented batsmen in the team. Some are waiting in the wings. It is good for the team. It shows that Indian cricket is heading in the right direction," Raina told PTI in an interview here.
"It's not the matter of competition or the slot being overcrowded because whoever will get the chance to perform will lap it up with both hands. There is a healthy competition in the team and it is good for the team, to be honest," he said.
The Uttar Pradesh batsman has worked hard on his batting after he was dropped from the Indian team in January 2007.
"It was a frustrating period. I have worked on my batting. My gameplan now is to play hard cricket, think positively and make sure that I am fit enough to play for the country with a fresh mind," he said.
Raina, who has played 36 one-dayers since his debut in 2005 but is yet to earn his Test cap, said coming late in the order made it difficult for him to score runs which ultimately cost him a place in the team.
"I think I have done well whenever I have got chance, despite coming late in the innings, that is around 40th over, it is difficult to score but I still contributed 35-40 runs," he said.
"But you have no choice but to go for shots at that stage, so at times you are bound to fail," he said.
Asked whether going up the batting order would have helped him to cement a place in the team, he said "I have to play for the team and it will always be the team management and the captain's call to decide where I am needed to bat because at the end of the day you are there for the team."
Raina said sharing the dressing room with greats like Sachin Tendulkar had an impact on him and the tour of Australia was a "great learning experience."
"It was a very nice tour as India won the tri-series for the first time ever and defeated Australia on their own soil.
I learnt a lot from the series," he said.
"I got the chance to speak to Sachin, Yuvraj (Singh) and also Gary Kirsten. Even (captain Mahendra Singh) Dhoni used to keep guiding me," he said.
"I also batted a lot in the nets and practised with the bowling machine. We were all together in good and bad times and we learnt to enjoy each other's successes," he said.
Raina also had good words for Dhoni who, he believes, has changed the approach of the team.
"He is very friendly with players and asks every player to focus on their natural game. He also tells them not to bother about their performance as they would not be dropped because of one bad day," he said.
Asked what was the highlight of the tour Down Under, Raina said "the final win."
"I felt very proud to be a part of the victorious team.
It was my dream to defeat Australia in Australia," he said.
As India gets ready for it next assignment against South Africa, a patient Raina is preparing for the grind of the domestic season.
"My next target is domestic matches in Deodhar Trophy and the Indian Premier League. I am in very good condition at the moment. I have no injuries and I am also fielding very well," he said.