Over the years, we have seen the Indian Premier League (IPL) has fast-tracked careers of talented young cricketers. In fact, in the current Indian team, there are quite a few players like Hardik Pandya, Jasprit Bumrah, Ravindra Jadeja and Manish Pandey, who can vouch for me on this. Due to the quality of cricket, global reach of the tournament and its extreme popularity, at this platform any significant contribution throughout the season, does not go unnoticed, more so, if the performer is an uncapped player.
Well, since the last season, one cricketer who is rapidly making his case stronger to be a direct beneficiary of this shortest route to international cricket is the stylish left-hand batsman Nitish Rana, who has been Kolkata Knight Riders’ (KKR) unsung hero so far in this season.
Following his fruitful stint with Mumbai Indians (333 runs in 13 matches at 30.27) last year, the 24-year old middle-order batsman fetched 3.4 Crore in this year’s auction and so far, the youngster has justified every single penny the franchise has spent on him.
With 162 runs in five innings at 40.50, Rana has been KKR’s highest run-scorer thus far in IPL 2018 and in the overall list of top run-getters this season, he is currently at the third position, after Virat Kohli (201) and Sanju Samson (185).
Batting at No 4, the youngster has been a perfect foil to the flamboyance of Andre Russell, Chris Lynn, Robin Uthappa and Dinesh Karthik. His job in this KKR batting line-up is very delicate. If a couple of wickets fall early, Rana will come out and play the role of a sheet-anchor and when the team is in search of quick runs, the left-hander can pack a punch. A strike-rate close 140 (in IPL 11) is a testament to that.
Basically, Rana is the playing the role, which Manish Pandey used to play for KKR and at the crease, the left-hander seems like a more composed and organised batsman than Pandey. Also, being a typical modern-day batsman, against pace he plays the horizontal bat shots really efficiently and from his feet movement against slow bowlers, it is evident that Rana is a good player of spin as well. And like any top cricketer, Rana too thrives under pressure.
However, the most important aspect of his batsmanship is his maturity to read the match situation and react accordingly. In the last game against Delhi, when Russell was going all guns blazing, Rana played a perfect second fiddle to him. He did not try anything out of the box and just gave the strike back to his senior partner. But after the fall of Russell, he quickly changed gears. Against Rajasthan, Rana showed a similar sort of maturity during his partnerships with Uthappa and Karthik.
Furthermore, along with the batting, his handy part-time off-spin is an added asset for the team management. Unorthodox but effective. In fact, it was his all-round effort which fetched Rana two ‘Man of the match’ awards out of the three KKR victories in this competition so far. With ball, against RCB he got rid of Virat Kohli and AB De Villiers in an over and that changed the course of the game completely. Similarly, against Rajasthan, his 2 for 11 gave Karthik the control back in the proceedings following a decent start by the home side.
In domestic cricket, Rana represents Delhi and has a First-Class average of 46.29 after 24 games, which means he is not just one of those IPL specialists. Rana made his List A and T20 debuts in the 2012-13 season but played his first Ranji Trophy match only in 2015-16 and finished the season as his team’s highest run-getter, with 557 runs at 50.63, including a century and three fifties.
In the following season, Rana’s form took a dip as he scored 404 runs in eight First-Class games at an average of just more than 33. His career threatened to fall away but was resurrected by a successful 2017 IPL campaign and since then he has been making the right noises.
I believe, Rana currently has a genuine chance to take his career to the next level if he continues to impress in this edition of IPL. Remember, there are vacancies in the middle-order in India’s limited-overs’ set-up and going into the next year’s World Cup, they will be experimenting a lot with their combination.
More or less, a successful IPL this year can at least earn him a place in the England-bound India 'A' team. And if Rana can perform under the guidance of Rahul Dravid, life won’t be the same again for this potential India material.