Nitish Rana's 29-ball 50 from No. 3 helped Mumbai Indians beat Kolkata Knight Riders and made him an overnight sensation. © BCCI

Nitish Rana’s 29-ball 50 from No. 3 helped Mumbai Indians beat Kolkata Knight Riders and made him an overnight sensation. © BCCI

Nitish Rana’s 29-ball 50 from No.3 in a four-wicket win for Mumbai Indians against Kolkata Knight Riders in their Indian Premier League 2017 at the Wankhede Stadium on Sunday (April 9) has made him an overnight sensation. Here is a look at the 23-year-old left-hand batsman’s progress over the years.

The innings
In their first game of the season against Rising Pune Supergiant, Mumbai sent Rana at No. 4 ahead of Ambati Rayudu. Playing only his fifth match for the franchise, Rana gave a good account of himself with a 28-ball 34. In fact, he read Imran Tahir, who picked up three wickets, the best. That gave the management the confidence to promote him to No. 3 against Kolkata.

Chasing 179, Mumbai were 65 for 1 in 7.3 overs when Rana took strike. He saw the team slump to 119 for 5 in 16.1 overs when Hardik Pandya joined him at the centre. He was on 23 off 19 balls at that point, and Mumbai needed 60 off 23 balls.

He hit Chris Woakes for a boundary over cover, but survived a run-out chance off the very next ball as the bowler broke the stumps without collecting Suryakumar Yadav’s throw on the bounce from mid-off. With dew being a factor and neither Trent Boult nor Ankit Rajpoot able to counter it successfully, Rana took full advantage to hit two fours and two sixes in a space of five balls in the 18th and 19th overs. He was aided by a 41-run stand with Pandya in just 2.2 overs before being caught by Sunil Narine at point.

Rana’s knock included five fours and three sixes. Pandya’s unbeaten 11-ball 29 gave Mumbai their first win with a delivery to spare.

Poetic justice
With Gautam Gambhir, the Kolkata captain who was injured on the field, watching the last part of Rana’s innings from the dugout, one could not miss the poetic justice.

After the much-publicised fight between Gambhir and KP Bhaskar, Delhi’s coach, during the Vijay Hazare Trophy earlier this year, the veteran had fought for youngsters in the team.

“Unmukt Chand captained India A recently, captained Delhi when I wasn’t a part of the team. Suddenly you don’t even pick him for Delhi’s one-day side. Nitish Rana was a part of the Duleep Trophy and also played in the IPL, but suddenly after a few bad games you send him back,” Gambhir had told The Indian Express in March. “How will these two cricketers feel?” 

Rana, on his part, has regularly credited Gambhir for helping him in his career.

Word about Rana’s big-hitting prowess spread when he was at Shastri Club and Rahul Sanghvi, who is from Delhi and a part of Mumbai’s back room, spoke for him. © BCCI

When and why did Mumbai buy him?
Rana was bought for Rs 10 lakh in the 2015 auction. He started his career under Tarak Sinha at Sonnet Club before shifting to Shastri Club to train under Sanjay Bharadwaj, who has also coached Gambhir, Chand and Amit Mishra, among others. Word about Rana’s clean striking spread fast and Rahul Sanghvi, the former India left-arm spinner who hails from Delhi and is a part of the Mumbai franchise, spoke for him. 

Lead-up to IPL debut
Rana, who made his T20 debut in the 2012-13 Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, sat on Mumbai’s bench in IPL 2015, but then had a good 2015-16 season. He topped Delhi’s batting charts with 557 runs in his maiden Ranji season at an average of 50.63, and hit an unbeaten 132 against Karnataka in Hubli. That knock helped Delhi save the game after being asked to follow on.

Then, in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy that season, his 40-ball 97 after Delhi were 40 for 4 set up a 111-run win over Andhra. Also eye-catching was his match-winning 29-ball 53 against Baroda after Delhi had been reduced to 54 for 3 in their chase of 154. He ended as Delhi’s best batsman with 299 runs at a strike-rate of 175.88, which included three half-centuries. Delhi failed to make the final but Rana ended with the most sixes in the tournament – 21.

It did not go unnoticed. Mumbai handed him his IPL debut against Royal Challengers Bangalore in an away fixture. He took just four games to prove his worth. Promoted to No. 3 by Ricky Ponting in their last league game against Gujarat Lions in Kanpur, Rana responded with a 36-ball 70 to help Mumbai post 172 for 8. They lost by six wickets, but a new star was born that night.

Learning from Ponting
In an interview with bcci.tv in January 2016, Rana had said Ponting’s inputs helped him fine-tune his batting.

“I watch the ball and hit it according to the situation. I was not doing that earlier,” Rana had said when asked about his love for hitting sixes. “After I got picked in the Indian Premier League, I started doing that. Ricky Ponting had told me that my back lift is a little low. He told me that by the time the bowler releases the ball, my back lift should be complete so that the downswing doesn’t take time. I have worked hard on that and that has helped.”

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