Nitish Kumar Reddy was 15 years old when he came close to Virat Kohli at the BCCI annual awards in July 2018. Nitish, adjudged the best cricketer in the Under-16 category, wanted to catch the Indian cricket star’s eye and get a picture with him. It didn’t happen.
“The bodyguards got in the way and I could not meet him,” says the Andhra Pradesh all-rounder.
There was, however, a surprise in store. Virat’s wife, actor Anushka Sharma, had spotted the earnest boy. “She came up to me and said, ‘It’s ok, I’m going to give you a photo.’ I felt so happy,” he says.
On the awards evening, the teenager with stars in his eyes told Sportstar he hoped to break Kohli’s batting records someday. In the 2017-18 Vijay Merchant Trophy his bat did the talking. Opening for Andhra, he began the tournament with a triple-century and backed it up with two centuries and two fifties in the following rounds.
He followed it up with a blistering 441 against Nagaland, the quadruple ton coming off just 345 deliveries in Rajkot. He notched up 1237 runs from eight innings at an average of 176.41 — the highest recorded tally ever in the tournament.
Over the years, Nitish has gone on to add more layers to his cricket. From a batting phenomenon, he has developed his innate seam bowling ability. A sustained focus on bowling over the last three years has ensured Nitish has developed the ability to open the bowling for Andhra, too.
The all-rounder has proved himself good enough to land a spot with the Sunrisers Hyderabad team for IPL 2023. Just five T20s old, the 19-year-old is the only cricketer from the Andhra-Hyderabad belt to be a part of the SRH contingent this season.
Rediscovering love for the ball
Opening the batting and bowling is no mean feat at any level and is bound to take a toll. Nitish’s wiry body began to bear the brunt and his love for the ball deteriorated in the 2018 and 2019 seasons when he represented several U-19 sides, including the Indian team.
“I was a proper batter then. It wasn’t like I picked up bowling during the U-19 days. I have also bowled with the new ball in the lower age groups. But I never focused on it as much. Even if I took a lot of wickets, it never made me as happy as I’d feel when I score runs,” Nitish says.
The timely intervention of his coaches, and a call from former junior national selection committee chairman Aashish Kapoor helped. Changes were in the offing.
“My coaches decided it was better to play me in the middle-order,” Nitish explains. He has been fortunate to have the best cricket minds in Andhra clear a pathway for him. During the Covid-19 lockdown in 2020, Nitish worked on his bowling with his then coach and former Services skipper C.D. Thomson.
‘Temperament is talent’
Thomson recalls their work together. “He was known to have an unflappable temperament. I think temperament is God-given. That’s what I would call talent. Technique and tactics can be taught or practised.”
Thomson admits that Nitish would have probably lost himself in the huge pool of young Indian batters if he chose to stick to only his primary skill. He also hails Kapoor’s foresightedness. “Somewhere in between the number of runs he got at the junior level; his bowling took a back seat. As a coach, it was all about making him understand what an additional skill would do to his game. And then helping him fall in love again with bowling.
“The most important aspect is sometimes the players themselves need to hear from the selectors, whether it is a district selector or a national selector. Only then do they know what they are looking for and slot themselves, accordingly. Nitish was already working on his bowling and working his pace up. It was a nice call from the national selector to give him some direction,” says Thomson.
“Bowling has given him that fillip and made him a vital cog in the Andhra team. They tried a lot of players in the past three years, but once he got into the zone, he sort of made it his own,” he adds.
Nitish’s batting returns have not been astronomical in the lower-middle order for Andhra in the Ranji Trophy 2022-23 season, but there have been spurts of brilliance with the ball. Nitish bowled 197.2 overs with the red ball for 25 wickets. Fatigue caught up with him towards the end of the season. His senior teammates Karthik Raman and Sudarshan mention they had never seen Nitish bowl such long spells earlier.
With Thomson taking up coaching commitments in the USA with Minor League Cricket teams, Nitish currently trains with coach, Krishna Rao. Thomson sheds light on Nitish’s bowling strengths.
“His natural ability is to bowl back of a length. His action allows him to bring the ball into the batter. That particular aspect is something he’s always shown, but what he has improved is bowling a yard closer to the batter. It has allowed his deliveries to move a little late. He has also developed a ball that pitches and cuts in without doing much in the air.
“This has made him more threatening. He has matured and understands the plans and fields. He has the ability to persist with tight lines for several overs to pressure the batter,” says Thomson.
Thomson’s assessment of Nitish was on display in a spell in a Ranji Trophy clash between Andhra and Saurashtra at Rajkot in January. Bowling to Cheteshwar Pujara, Nitish dazzled the senior India pro.
Placing a cramped on-side field, Nitish lured Pujara with a probing line outside the off-stump. An overpitched ball was dispatched to the deep-cover fence. However, Nitish came back with a delivery that moved in ever so slightly off the pitch to rattle the off-stump.
Pujara responded with a chanceless 91 in the second-innings and Nitish imbibed a valuable lesson from the India No. 3’s response. “If I have to survive at the Ranji level and even higher up, I need to gain that sort of mental toughness,” he says.
IPL and beyond
Unlike most in the Sunrisers camp, Nitish is equipped to put the best of Brian Lara (batting coach) and Dale Steyn (bowling coach) together. Nitish is, however, realistic about his chances.
“The IPL pick itself has been unbelievable for me. I am looking forward to absorbing as much as possible from the great players. I am not expecting any chances to play this time. But if there is a chance, I will be ready.”
Nitish is currently indecisive about his batting and bowling heroes besides Kohli. “It keeps changing,” he says with a chuckle.
Not without my father
Nitish’s father, Mutyala Reddy, left his job with Hindustan Zinc Limited years ago to focus on his ward’s game. It’s a sacrifice and risk that is not lost on Nitish.
“I was 12 or 13 when my dad quit his job. He was transferred to Udaipur. He analysed the cricket there and was afraid of the politics that might affect my game. He quit his job and dedicated his time to my game. Relatives questioned his decisions. He is the first person who believed in me,” says Nitish.
Nitish does not share the same mindset of a run machine as Kohli now. He might finally succeed in sharing a few minutes with the former India skipper when Royal Challengers Bangalore visits Hyderabad on May 18 in the IPL 2023 season.
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