The rise of Nitish Rana

As a cricket-loving nation, India has always looked at and given opportunities to young talent for decades now. One of the greatest cricketers to take the field, Sachin Tendulkar had made his debut at the age of 16, in 1989. Since then, there have been many success stories in Indian cricket where players have made debuts for the country at a raw age and went on to contribute heavily for the national side. The Indian Premier League entered Indian cricket in 2008 and has since been a fish pond for selectors scanning for young talent across the country.

Most of the teams in the IPL buy a lot of unheard of, talented and young players and provide them with opportunities to set foot on the big stage, among national as well as international stars of the game. The kind of exposure given to them is as good as the one we see at the highest level of the sport. At Mumbai Indians, we have pioneered the task of scouting for and grooming such talents, right from the first season onwards. The latest to emerge from this prestigious pool of players is none other than Nitish Rana, who has been Mr. Consistent for us in this season of the IPL.

In the last few years, we have struggled to win a string of games at the start of the season. This year has been pleasingly different for us though. After losing the first game against Rising Pune Supergiant, we have won four games in a row. We beat Kolkata Knight Riders, defending champions, Sunrisers Hyderabad, last year’s runner-up, Royal Challengers Bangalore and Gujarat Lions. After our fourth win, we were sitting pretty on the top of the IPL points table. A lot of the credit to our outstanding success goes to the runs off Nitish Rana’s bat.

Hailing from Delhi, Rana attracted eye-balls when he had a splendid run in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy in 2015. He had hit 21 sixes for Delhi – the most by any player in the tournament. He helped Delhi reach the semi-finals with some impressive knocks, one of them being a 40-ball 97, during which he smashed 8 sixes. Rana was usurped in the IPL auction, in the same year. However, he couldn’t make his IPL debut until a year later, in the 2016 edition.

Rana was handed a debut against Royal Challengers Bangalore at the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium. He got his opportunity to bat in the 10th over of our innings and got off the mark with a quiet single. The next scoring shot by Rana was an innovative six, off Varun Aaron. Rana backed away and helped the ball on its way with an angled bat over the third man boundary. The timing was pitch-perfect in that shot. Just when he got into his groove, Rana tried to hit another maximum, but was brilliantly caught by Stuart Binny, inches within the cover fence. A great start finished in unfortunate manner.

That wasn’t all for Nitish Rana in the 2016 season! In our last league game of the season, against Gujarat Lions, Rana came into his own when he was promoted to number 3. The southpaw romped to 70 off just 36 balls. Rana announced his arrival on the big stage.

In the latter half of 2016, Rana started his Ranji Trophy season for Delhi on a high, scoring 146 runs off 222 balls against Assam in their opening game of the season. He followed the century with 260 runs in 11 innings. Rana got good starts in most of his outings after the success in his first game, but he clearly couldn’t convert them into anything substantial. He was going through a tough phase in his domestic career during the latter half of the season. Rana recalls what he went through as runs became hard to accumulate. “I began overthinking a lot. Many people told me different things. My season turned sour, as I lost my wicket at the wrong time. I was getting the starts, but couldn’t make the most of them. I got dropped from the one-day (Vijay Hazare Trophy) squad after three games.”

Rana wasn’t one to give up hope. He had a lot of support around him, which helped him regain his confidence. “My family, my coach and my friends backed me a lot. They asked me to pay attention on working hard and not bother about results. They told me that if I worked hard, I would have a good run in the IPL. I switched my focus to the IPL from there on.”

While preparing for the IPL, Rana wasn’t sure if he would make it to the first-choice playing XI. “I didn’t think I would get a chance in our first game itself. Once I got to Mumbai and started batting (during the training sessions), I had a few words with Mahela (Jayawardene). I brought about a couple of changes in my technique.”

Rana revealed how his state team skipper, Gautam Gambhir’s advice changed things around for him. “He was trying to tell me something for one and a half years, and I probably didn’t understand back then. When I implemented his advice into my batting, I began feeling the difference. I realised that had I followed it earlier, my Ranji season would have had better scores to show. When I came over here (Mumbai), Mahela Jayawardene told me the exact same thing. Gradually, I could feel the change in my system. It took 10 to 12 days, as it was completely new for me and I had never done it before. Now, all of it is for everyone to see.”

Nitish’s IPL campaign got off to a positive start! In our first game in Pune, he scored 34 after the top order folded up for 62 runs. He got the innings back on track with Kieron Pollard and played a worthy anchoring role. The innings he played in the next game was an even more responsible one. He came in at number three and we lost 3 quick wickets, being reduced to 74/3. The need of the hour was to rebuild the chase and not fall far behind the required rate. Rana started cautiously before opening his arms in the final few overs. He ended up with a match-winning 50, but was slightly disappointed about not seeing the team through. “I wish I had stayed not out and been there to see off the team’s victory.”

In our second consecutive chase at home, Rana played another circumspect knock, scoring 45 and anchoring the innings once again. He laid the foundation for Krunal Pandya to come in and take on the bowlers. As law of averages would have it, Nitish Rana came across his first failure of the season. On a tough pitch, he scored just 11 runs against Royal Challengers Bangalore.

The youngster came back strongly on our return to our home ground. We were playing the Gujarat Lions in front of nearly 20,000 children, from the ‘Education For All’ initiative pioneered by the Reliance Foundation. The occasion in itself was a very special one. In another difficult chase, Rana got into the thick of the action early in his innings. He took some pressure off his senior partner, Jos Buttler by striking a few useful boundaries early in his innings. In no time, Rana got to his second half century of the season. He achieved something he had only dreamt about – owning the coveted Orange Cap, the one donned only by the leading run-getter.

He never thought of wearing the Orange Cap before the season, but the thought dawned on him after a string of good scores early in the tournament. “I had never planned on claiming it, but the way I started, it was there somewhere in my mind. I knew if I continued batting this way, I could get it at some point in the tournament. I feel really lucky to wear it”, said Rana with a huge smile on his face.

Nitish Rana has been batting with a positive mind-set and his thoughts are very clear. “I’ve been going through the same routine from day 1. I try to keep a good mind-set while I play and that has been working for me. I am in a good zone at the moment and I don’t want to over-think and change that. I would just want to go out and bat normally, according to the situation.”

Rana is quite happy with the role he has currently in the batting order. He is keen on batting up the order and shouldering the responsibility. “My role is simple! If a wicket falls early, I have to go in there and spend some time at the crease. It is best for me and the team if I play out a few balls and take up an anchoring role. I am a ‘stroke player’ and if I spend time out there, it will be beneficial for the team.”

A few cricketing legends were all appreciation for the youngster. After watching his innings of 53, Michael Clarke expressed his thoughts over Nitish Rana on twitter:

“This boy Nitesh Rana is a very good player. Fantastic 50.”

Harsha Bhogle was impressed by Nitish Rana’s exploits as well:

“Young Nitish Rana is just the kind of player you nurture. Will be really interested in seeing how he goes in different conditions.”

‘Nitish Rana is here to stay’ – that is exactly what one feels after watching him bat in our first five games. The Delhi-boy has become a new favourite for our Paltan. We lost Ambati Rayudu’s services after an injury in our very first game, but Rana has filled the experienced batsman’s shoes comfortably. He has become our latest ‘Mr. Consistent’ with the bat. It is very assuring for the team and the Paltan to know that Rana’s young shoulders are ready to take up the responsibility to play according to the situation in this demanding tournament. Whatever changes Rana made has lifted his game by a few levels.

We have got a very good start to the season and our position in the points table is very comforting to watch. The balance in the batting order seems just about right and Rana’s place in the side seems cemented too. This should give him further confidence, not that he lacks any at the moment. An exciting young talent has risen to the occasion and is giving good bowlers and other formidable batsmen a run for their money. Rana is carrying the torch of youngsters coming through our ranks high and is a force that wouldn’t be taken lightly in the 10th edition of the IPL.



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