Like many youngsters of his age, Nitish Rana hates advices. “A lot of people ask me why I play rash shots. Why could you play like that, why could play like this. Yeh toh first-class cricket hain, kyun itne shot maarte hain?” Rana has grown so immune to both advice and criticism that he retorts: “I tell them, I play this way and I would continue playing this way. I am open to advice, if I’m batting badly or something, but not when I am batting well.”
It is because of statements like these, Rana often gets labelled as arrogant and headstrong. There have also been whispers that he is only bothered about white-ball cricket and IPL. He counterpoints: “People have to accept that this is the way I play. It has made me a successful player. When the rash shots come off, they praise and when they don’t, they criticise.”
On Wednesday his enterprise was the tonic behind Delhi’s unprecedented six-wicket heist over champions Vidarbha. The fact that Rana wrapped up the game with a slog-swept six over mid-wicket ensured that the story of this thrilling game would be narrated at Kotla for years to come.
Take his unbeaten 68-ball 105 away, and the team would have been staring at an unenviable task of winning two out of their four remaining games to remain in the knockout fray. That they came back from the brink, wagered not even an outside chance at the end of the third day to knock down the steep target of 347 could have season-transforming value. “These are situations that transform a team, infuse them with the belief that they could achieve anything,” asserts coach KP Bhaskar.
Self-belief is the word Rana repeats at least twice in a sentence. Even when Delhi were tasked with an unrealistic target, Rana didn’t lose hope. “I told the openers in the morning that if you guys can bat till lunch, I can win you this game,” he recollects.
The openers did their part, stitching a 164-run alliance, Delhi’s first century opening stand in 45 games and their highest in seven years, but a victory still looked remote when Rana strode in at No 3. The challenges he faced were manifold: Vidarbha, fearing if they would lose match, devised an outrageously defensive tactic. The off-side was packed with seven men, three in the ring including the slip and four patrolling the boundaries. The medium-pacers were bowling far outside the off-stump, almost hugging the side-crease, taking an eternity to set fields, often pulling out midway through their delivery stride. “More than the negative lines, I was irritated by their time-wasting tactics,” Rana admits.
Vidarbha’s tactics were working. A session that began with a flurry of boundaries saw Delhi struggle to slit the gaps, resulting in their openers perishing in pursuit of extravagant shots. For a while, Delhi wondered how to pierce the off-side maze. Then kicked in Rana’s daring, beginning with a brace of sixes off Aditya Thakare. Rana would widen his stance, Chanderpaul-like, walk across the stumps, pick the length and smear him straight over his head. “They were bowling to my strengths. Had they bowled straighter, they would have had better chances of getting me out.”
Maybe, Vidarbha thought it was just a passing storm — that an impetuous shot would bring his downfall. After the flashes of unorthodoxy, Rana began unfurling the more conventional boundary-scoring shots. A couple of gorgeous cover drives followed a brace of deft cuts, panicking the Vidabha’s bowlers, including Umesh Yadav, who was far from his usual robust self, bowling from a shortened run-up. A thunderous drive completed his half-century off only 27 balls, just before the tea interval. By this time, Delhi, at 246/2, were rolling to a memorable win.
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But doubts still lingered. Yadav could return for one last spell and slice through. The light could rapidly deteriorate, Rana could play a rash stroke and get out. Of all these challenges, Rana was only bothered about the light. “I constantly kept looking at the sun, whether it was over the grilles of that stand (Bishan Singh Bedi). Once the sun goes down the grille, I know it will go down in the blink of an eye. So I was pacing my innings accordingly.” Rana, in the end, cleared all doubts, beat the sun and the bowlers, and silenced his critics.
Brief Scores: Vidarbha 179 and 330/4 decl lost to Delhi 163 and (target 347) 348/4 wickets (Nitish Rana 105* off 68 balls, Kunal Chandela 75, Hiten Dalal 82) by six wickets.
Points: Delhi 6, Vidarbha 0.
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