The evolution of Delhi boy Nitish Rana into MI's dasher

Nitish Rana's fine run in this year's IPL is one of the reasons why Mumbai Indians' sit pretty at the top of the points table.

Nitish Rana
Nitish Rana. (Photo Source: BCCI)
Salman Khan
Salman Khan

Sr. Staff Writer

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10 runs in 3 List A innings. Getting dropped from the squad. State-mate and India stalwart Gautam Gambhir stood up for him and had an ugly confrontation with Delhi Coach K.P Bhaskar, alleging him of practising nepotism. Not the perfect preparation for a high profile tournament like the IPL for young Nitish Rana.

He was struggling, yes. But with the talent he had shown earlier in domestic cricket, he should have been backed by the team. Gambhir recognised that and stated that there was a negative environment in the team which is causing insecurity amongst the young brigade in the squad.

Gambhir and Rana share something more in common other than the fact that both bat left-handed. Both are students of the same coach, Mr. Sanjay Bharadwaj, as they have come through LB Shastri Cricket Club in the capital New Delhi. Gambhir being 12 years senior to Rana has seen the latter’s rise through the ranks right from his teenage years.

When the runs started to dry up in the international arena, Gambhir bided time in domestic cricket captaining Delhi. He still enjoys this role and wants to groom youngsters before calling it quits may be in a couple of years time. Rana made his first-class debut under Gambhir in 2015. The 35-year-old made the youngster bat at No.4 in his first game and Rana repaid the faith with a well composed 61.

He went on to play 6 more games in the season and made 557 runs in all, the highest for his state team Delhi in the season, at an average of 50.63. His good showings won him an IPL contract with Mumbai Indians. He averaged 34.66 in the four games he played in IPL 9 with 70 being his best performance. Rana surely did not want to end up being a one-season wonder.

Fast-forward to 2017, Rana is widely spoken of as a potential India cricketer. The stylish left-hander has taken this IPL like a fish to water. Ironically, Rana produced his first Man of the Match performance, which was also his first half-century this season, against a Gambhir-led KKR. Sent in to bat in at No.3, Rana set up Mumbai Indians’ chase of 180 with a classy 50.

He literally anchored the chase, at a strike rate of 172.41, till the power-hitter Hardik Pandya sealed the game with some brutal strikes. He showed maturity and was calm even when the asking rate kept on surging. He followed that with another nicely crafted innings of 45 against Sunrisers Hyderabad, who boast of the best bowling attack in the IPL.

Again, Rana dropped anchor in MI’s chase of 159. Dismissed just 4 runs before the winnings runs were hit; Rana was terribly disappointed on not finishing the job himself. That is a true hallmark of a great cricketer. They don’t want to leave the job to someone else, not that Mumbai could have struggled to score those 4 runs in 12 balls with 4 wickets in hand.

The rare blip was almost imminent. Rana fell to Samuel Badree for 11, which was his only failure in the first 5 games, in Mumbai’s tricky chase of 144. They still managed to win the game thanks to a certain Kieron Pollard.

The 23-year-old again played a calm hand in his side’s 6-wicket win against Gujarat Lions, scoring an enterprising 36-ball 53. This time he came to the crease on just the second ball of the innings. He showed good technique to counter whatever swing was available for the Gujarat bowlers. Rana won his second Man of the Match of the season in this game.

Confidence is such a thing in cricket. With runs under his belt, he is getting better and better after every outing with the bat. Rana seeing through a Mumbai chase became a mundane sight. This time they were chasing a stiff target of 199.

He joined forces with Jos Butler to clobber the Kings XI Punjab attack. There was something distinct in this knock. This time he remained unbeaten. He didn’t exactly anchor the innings. But the job was done with an unbeaten 34-ball 62, which showed his versatility as a batsman as he tonked the bowlers all around the park. He smashed 7 sixes in his innings, not a single boundary. He was severe on the Punjab bowlers which had 4 bowlers of international experience out of the 6 tried by skipper Maxwell.

In the process of this belligerent knock, Rana won the orange cap. From a 23-year-old batsman who was dropped for the one-day games by his state side to a dynamic batsman thwarting international bowlers around in a big tournament; Nitish Rana has come a long way as a cricketer.

He comes across as a humble character. He is that sort of a person whose success makes everyone happy in the dressing room. When he raised his bat for his third half-century of the season, Jonty Rhodes – the fielding coach of the Mumbai Indians – had his arms aloft and had a big grin on his face. He has been backed by the team and repaid the faith by grabbing his chances with both hands.

A tournament which boasts of big-hitters like Chris Gayle, AB de Villiers, Maxwell and the likes; Rana has hit more sixes than each of them, as many as 16 – the joint most sixes in the tournament so far, the other one being Brendon McCullum.

It is often said that the bigger challenge is to maintain the same kind of performances over a period of time. That is the challenge of young Rana. He needs to keep his head down, go back to domestic cricket and keep scoring big runs which will eventually culminate into a national call-up soon.

The selectors will also keep an eye on him post his brilliant performances, and this shouldn’t get to Rana. He has come a long way from being Gambhir’s protege. His temperament will be tested once the business end of the tournament starts.

Till then, we all, hopefully, will be treated to a few more pristine performances from this young Delhi boy.