When Nitish Rana announced his arrival in the Indian Premier League last season, one can bet that not a single soul in Kolkata was happy. His 29-ball 50 that night was one of the major forces that downed Kolkata Knight Riders despite them putting up a stern 178 on the board. After that, the gutsy southpaw would add two more fifties to his tally that season before tapering off towards the end. The impression that Rana had made on the KKR thinktank’s mind though wasn’t to die soon though. In this year’s auction, they bid hard for him, raising his currency value from INR 20 lakhs to 3.4 crores. And in response to that heavy price-tag, the 24-year-old ensured that he didn’t make his franchise wait for too long to reap the dividends.
Rana’s contribution to KKR’s opening win was massive, for he took out RCB’s heart and soul – AB de Villiers and Virat Kohli – off back to back balls with his part-time bowling. He then stitched together a critical 55-run stand with his skipper Dinesh Karthik to ease the team’s chase of 176. In the next couple of games too, he would get starts but failed to encash. When he walked in to bat in the eighth over with KKR’s score reading 62 for 2, on Monday (April 16), all that his team needed him to do was hang in there and perhaps not get out after a start, again.
Rana, much by his own admission, relishes batting against the spinners and he put that on display by hitting two sixes and a four off Rahul Tewatia and Shahbaz Nadeem, combined, in his first two overs. “I always knew if the spinners come in, it’s very easy for my game. I was waiting for them, both of who turn the ball into me,” Rana told on Monday. In the forthcoming overs, Rana partnered Andre Russell who dismissed everything out of his sight to the extent of hitting three sixes in an over, twice.
If there was a musical concert, Russell would be your lead guitarist- a superstar with fancy hair and a jazzy attitude, who would plant a foot on the amplifier in front and pluck those strings to churn out the dominant tune, one that stays with you. On the other hand, Rana would be the bass guitarist, keeping every instrument on the stage together, if not by playing to the audience but by stringing it together for everyone to sound beautiful. On Monday, much like a bass guitarist, Rana was setting the pulse of KKR, playing an octave lower, yet so valuable.
So when Russell was sending Mohammed Shami on a leather hunt at his original homeground, Rana was happy to be in the background, but holding his own. And when his moment arrived, he hit Chris Morris for a six and a four in the following over. However, one of the telling aspects of his batting is his ability to read situations and that was on full show when Karthik departed after hitting two consecutive fours. Delhi were sensing an opportunity to tighten their grip on the game but the first ball after the skipper’s dismissal, Rana swiped it for a six over long on. The momentum wasn’t going to Delhi so easily after all.
Rana brought his fifty up off 30 balls and stayed in the middle for 11 overs, importantly till the 19th over. His efforts as mentioned by Delhi’s bowling coach S Sriram were overshadowed, first by Robin Uthappa’s raging counterattack and then by Russell’s flourish. Although, it is almost child’s play to label Russell’s flier the high-point in KKR’s win, in reality, it was Rana’s role that stood out to be the difference between the two teams. In a lineup filled with batsmen who can go hammer and tongs from ball one – the Roys, Iyers, Pants, Maxwells and Morrises, Delhi only have Gautam Gambhir who has the game to guts it out. So when Rishabh Pant and Glenn Maxwell gave it back to the Knight Riders, hitting nine fours and two sixes in less than six overs of their partnership, they still missed having that one batsman who could be their glue, who could take it till the end. Once the duo fell without much time separating their dismissal, DD crashed and rather embarrassingly.
It was only after Daredevils’ downfall when one could see the importance that Rana brings to the Knight Riders lineup. However, it’d be blasphemous if Rana is mistaken for just the quality of holding one end up. His five fours and four sixes convey the real story of the damage he did. “The idea was clear that if the ball lands in my zone, I will go for it. If it doesn’t, I will obviously give the strike to my partner,” Rana told. The 24-year-old would also know there’s competition from within the eleven, from someone like Shubman Gill whose best game is suited at a position where Rana bats (No.3, 4). However, the fact that Rana can switch gears, and importantly start on top gear as well, is helping him ward off any pressures. It is this dynamic quality of his game that makes him a vital cog in the KKR lineup. Plus, with that yellow streak of hair on the sides and a penchant to hit the white ball big, Rana can pretty much be KKR’s lead guitarist in every sense, as well as he’s their bassist right now.