Nitish Rana has been appointed captain of the Delhi team and the 28-year-old said that it’s been a ‘dream come true’ to lead his state team.
From playing under former India opener Gautam Gambhir to becoming the captain of Delhi, Rana has come a long way. He toughened himself, focusing just on his game, improving fitness and never complaining, despite the off-field controversies that plagued Delhi cricket.
Rana’s exploits with IPL (Indian Premier League) franchise Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) is well-documented. He has played many match-winning knocks for the two-time IPL winner and has a wealth of experience in domestic cricket. Having made his List A debut back in 2013, the Delhi all-rounder has plenty of experience under his belt.
“It’s a dream that has finally come true and I can’t express my feelings in words. All I can say is it’s an honour to captain Delhi and want to thank DDCA for giving me an opportunity to lead the team. I always wanted to captain Delhi, just like my idol Gautam Gambhir, and I have learnt a lot from him. When I made my debut, Gauti bhaiya was the captain and it’s a huge achievement for me to lead Delhi now. The journey hasn’t been easy but I have enjoyed every challenge,” Rana told Sportstar.
The Delhi skipper slammed a brilliant 107 off just 61 balls against Punjab and led from the front, helping his side eke out a crucial 12-run win in the ongoing Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy. He credited Gambhir for making him tough enough to survive in the Delhi circuit but said leadership comes naturally to him.
“Gambhir bhaiya’s influence has been huge in my life and I still remember the moment when I first went out to bat in Ranji Trophy, he was at the other end. He has taught me so many lessons, both on and off the field. I have always followed him and have always observed how he used to go about things. But, I think I have in me the leadership qualities and there is absolutely no pressure. As a professional cricketer, I have played so much that I am habituated to the demands of the game and captaincy. I love taking responsibility as a batsman and the same is with my captaincy. I was expecting the captaincy for a while now and I am thankful to DDCA for trusting in my skills. The aim is to win a trophy for Delhi,” Rana, who made his List A and T20 debut for Delhi in the 2012-13 season, said.
Captaining Ishant Sharma
Delhi has a mix of youngsters and experience, with veteran India fast bowler Ishant Sharma in its ranks. Youngsters like Yash Dhull, India’s Under-19 World Cup winning captain, Anuj Rawat, Ayush Badoni and Lalit Yadav, to name a few, hog the limelight and Rana said his job as skipper is to allow the young guns to play their natural game.
“Youngsters like Anuj, Yash, Ayush Badoni, they have been playing cricket and Dhull has played the U-19 World Cup. My seniors always used to tell me to back my game and I am exactly doing the same thing with the youngsters. I trust in their abilities and back my players to play their natural game. This is a good team and has the ability to win trophies,” the Delhi skipper said.
While the youngsters are rising through the ranks, the availability of veteran India fast bowler Ishant Sharma has been a shot in the arm for the Delhi unit. When asked how he manages to lead a side that has an India speedster, a veteran of 105 Test matches, the Delhi skipper said, “Ever since Gambhir bhaiya left and Ishant bhaiya was busy playing for India, a motivational figure was missing in the dressing room. But when I got a call from Ishant bhaiya saying that he wants to play an entire season, I was really excited and the entire team is very enthusiastic. It’s very motivating to have someone who has played over 100 Test matches and the experience he brings is a huge advantage for us,” he said.
Rana further stated that Ishant’s towering presence doesn’t make his job difficult, and instead, the India fast bowler allows youngsters, including the skipper, to back their decisions.
“The best part is he (Ishant Sharma) is very humble and backs every call that I make on the field. He always tells me to follow my instincts and to believe in my captaincy skills. Even the same thing for the youngsters in the team. On one occassion, I was a bit under pressure when the game was running away. I went to Ishant bhaiya and he asked me what I was thinking. I thought he would advise me but instead, he said, “ Tu jo soch raha hai usko back kar. Main hoon tere saath. Harenge ya jeetenge wo baad main dekha jayega. Tu dar mat (You back your decision and I am there with you. Whether we will win or lose, that’s a different matter. Don’t be afraid). We eventually won the match and the way Ishant Bhaiya motivates even under pressure is unbelievable,” he said.
“In IPL you have a lot of international players and captains but to have this guidance in Ranji Trophy and domestic cricket is very important for us. It boosts the morale of a player and especially when you are the captain. As a captain and player, I am grateful to have the backing of Ishant Bhaiya.”
The role of Abhishek Nayar
Like Dinesh Karthik, who sought Abhishek Nayar’s guidance and now, at 37, finds himself in the Indian squad for the T20 World Cup in Australia, Rana’s go-to man is also Nayar.
“I am always in touch with Abhishek Bhaiya for all the 12 months and whenever I need, he is there. He arranges practice for me in Mumbai when it’s raining in Delhi and vice-versa and the KKR academy is open around the year and that’s something that is a boon for me. To be in that kind of an environment is a great learning curve,” Rana said.
The all-rounder had sessions with Nayar ahead of the Ranji Trophy, which helped Rana approach red-ball cricket with a positive mindset.
“When the Ranji Trophy resumed, I called him and insisted on getting specific red-ball sessions to get into the groove. And KKR being an IPL franchise, which only focuses on T20 and white-ball cricket, arranging special sessions for me ahead of the Ranji Trophy is something amazing. It’s not always possible to meet him but he is always available over the phone and gives me the necessary inputs. I am confident of translating my preparations into results,” Rana, who made his Ranji Trophy debut in the 2015-16 season, said.
Dream of India comeback
On the back of a good 2021 IPL season, where he scored 383 runs with two half-centuries, Rana earned his maiden ODI call-up against Sri Lanka in July 2021 and subsequently made his T20I debut against the same opposition.
However, the middle-order batter couldn’t set the stage on fire and was subsequently dropped from the national side.
“Back of my mind there is always this aim to make an India comeback as the Sri Lanka series didn’t go well for me personally and I am ready whenever the chance comes,” Rana said.
The pain of disappointment when he failed to make an impact on his India debut still haunts Rana. But a level-headed Rana is determined to change the narrative by donning the blue jersey once again.
“I have worked on my batting, made a few changes but most important on my fitness and Abhishek Bhaiya has helped me immensely in the KRR academy. I have lost weight and I am getting into better shape. I am keeping myself ready because I don’t want to disappoint myself when the India chance comes. I am confident, it’s just around the corner.”