Nitish Rana’s second first-class century was a stroke-filled 146 against Assam in Delhi’s opening Ranji Trophy game in Baroda six months ago. After that, the swashbuckling middle-order batsman had a torrid time with the bat. Runs came in a trickle, and a big score continued to elude him. Delhi’s big batting hope finished with a shade over 400 runs in the Ranji season — his confidence well and truly dented.
His troubles were far from over though. The 23-year-old continued with a string of low scores in the T20 Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy that followed. After accruing just 10 runs in the first three games of the Vijay Hazare Trophy, the axe finally fell on the youngster. His exclusion from the squad created a lot of furore. Gautam Gambhir, the team’s seniormost player and someone who had backed Nitish to the hilt, openly questioned the move. It all looked like one big downward spiral for the youngster.
With the IPL less than a month away, Nitish was desperate to get his form back. He went back to his childhood coach Sanjay Bharadwaj at the LB Shastri Academy, a bustling cricketing nursery in North Delhi. On the face of it, his coach did not notice any perceptible flaw in Rana’s technique. It looked more like a mental block, something the seasoned coach was sure his brightest ward would overcome.
Turning up for the Mumbai Indians in this IPL, Nitish pulled out two brisk knocks, the latest being a whirlwind 29-ball 50, which helped his franchise pull off a stunning heist against Kolkata Knight Riders at the Wankhede a little over 24 hours back. Winning the Man-of-the-Match award was perhaps the perfect attestation that Nitish’s confidence and swagger were back. Looking back, his exclusion now looked like a blessing in disguise. It, in many ways, was the much needed wake-up call he needed to get his verve back. “I think the time away from the game has helped him. When you are not scoring runs, you generally become low on confidence. This is what had happened to Nitish. It was a mental block more than anything else,” Bharadwaj said.
“I was in my zone. Pata nahi chala when I had reached my 50,” was how Nitish summed up his efforts to his coach after his exploits on Sunday night.
Not surprisingly, the congratulatory messages have not stopped since. Nitish’s household in Model Town in North Delhi was abuzz with activity. “Subah se bahut phone calls aa rahe hain,” DB Rana, Nitish’s father, a high school teacher at a government school quipped. He admitted there was a sense of satisfaction as he watched his son help Mumbai to victory. “Khushi hoti hain. Aisa lagta hain ki mere bete ko job mein confirmation mil gaya,” the senior Rana offered.
DB Rana played club cricket in the national capital along with younger brother Anil in their youth. However, with time as their cricketing dreams faced a reality check, one graduated to become a high school teacher while the other went on to become a cop. The two brothers did not have an inkling about Nitish’s talents. Not even after seeing the 7-year-old while away his time with a plastic bat. In fact, they had got him enrolled at a nearby academy for a pretty bizarre reason — to get rid of Nitish’s baby fat. “Bachpan mein bahut golu-golu sa tha. Toh hume laga ki cricket khelne se bachcha fit ho jayega,” DB Rana explained.
Nitish has never looked back since. After spending his early years under Rishabh Pant’s coach Tarak Sinha, he moved to the famed LB Shastri Academy when he was 12 under the tutelage of Bharadwaj. This was where he would evolve into an elegant and fluid stroke-maker with a penchant to play the big shots. His uncle Anil gave a plausible explanation for Nitish’s elegance. “He was a big Sourav Ganguly fan. Bachpan me woh Cricket Samraat padta tha aur waha se Ganguly ka photo cutting apne paas rakhta tha.”
Bhaskar offers caution
The brouhaha surrounding Nitish in this IPL season notwithstanding, Delhi coach KP Bhaskar had a more measured take. “Let us not get too far ahead of ourselves. Yes, he played a match-winning knock last night to help his team win, but if Nitish wants to take his game to the next level, he must be more consistent.” Consistency. This is something that was Nitish’s bane through the course of his second year in domestic cricket. This was also the reason that ultimately led to his exclusion from Delhi’s Vijay Hazare Trophy squad in March this year. “He didn’t have a great (Ranji) season. After a century in the opening game, a lot was expected of him. He has the talent and all the shots in his arsenal. But unfortunately he has failed to give us good starts,” he added. Coach Bhaskar has a point. After a largely underwhelming domestic season, Nitish is now pinning his hopes on the IPL to kickstart his fledgling career.