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Gautam Gambhir’s guidance has helped: Nitish Rana

Delhi’s promising batsman credits Ricky Ponting for helping him develop the big shots

A stylish batsman, Nitish Rana has been a key performer for Delhi in the ongoing domestic (2015-16) season. While he emerged as the top-scorer for the Gautam Gambhir-led team in the Ranji Trophy with 557 runs in seven matches in his debut first-class season, the left-hand batsman is also scoring prolifically in the shorter formats of the game. He was the second highest scorer for Delhi in the Vijay Hazare Trophy with 218 runs and leads the batting chart of his team in the Syed Mustaq Ali T20 tournament with 286 runs, including 21 sixes and 23 boundaries.

Rana, who scored an unbeaten 60 off 44 balls to help Delhi to victory in the Super League against Jharkhand and stay in contention for a spot in the finals, credits his captain and the Delhi coach, Vijay Dahiya for his consistent success in the ongoing season. “We have been gelling well as team and the atmosphere has been good. It was my first season of first-class cricket. I am lucky that Gautam (Gambhir) bhaiyya is the captain. I haven’t seen a better captain than him. It is thanks to his and coach’s backing that we are here today.”

For Rana, Gambhir has been a mentor since his younger days. “I speak to Sanjay (Bhardwaj) sir and Gautam bhaiyya whenever I have a problem. I started playing from Gautam bhaiyya’s club, so whenever I had a problem technically or mentally, I would talk to him. He has been helping me for eight-nine years now.”

Rana’s uncle played cricket and everyone in the family wanted him to play the sport too. “When I got selected for the U-16 side, I felt, yes, I can play. Before that, I would only play for fun. I was a little fat and would play to reduce weight. When, I got selected for the U-16s was, I took it a little seriously.”

Reflecting on his early days in cricket, Rana said, “I have been doing well since my first season of Under-16. I was the top run-getter for Delhi then and at the Under-19 level as well. The second year, when India U19 won the ICC Cricket World Cup under Unmukt Chand (in 2012) did not turn out to be a good one. That was the season when I spoke to Gautam bhaiyya and since then I have been doing well. He spoke to me about a few technical things which have helped my cricket.

“I had developed two-three faults and he told me a few things which helped me. Since then for three seasons I have been performing well.”
Speaking about his preparation ahead of the season, Rana said, “I practice to bat in the toughest of situations on tough wickets so that I can bat with ease in the match.”

The young batsman who has held the key to Delhi’s batting along with Unmukt Chand this season, is also a big hitter of the ball. He has struck 21 sixes in the ongoing T20 tournament. “I watch the ball and hit it according to the situation. I practice at the LB Shastri ground where I hit sixes from the centre wicket which has helped.”

But hitting sixes is something that he has developed recently under the guidance of former Australia captain, Ricky Ponting during his time with the Mumbai Indians. “I wasn’t doing that earlier. After I got picked in the Indian Premier League, I started doing that. “Ricky Pointing had told me that my backlift is a little low. He told me that by the time the bowler releases the ball; your backlift should be complete, so that the downswing doesn’t take time. I have worked on that and that has helped. That is what I am doing now in the T20s,” he explained.

Being part of the MI dressing room has helped Rana develop his game. “I came to know a lot of things. I saw a higher level of cricket and learnt a lot of things. And probably it is because of that, that I am doing well in T20. What I learnt last year, I tried it during practice.”

The numbers suggest that the hard work is paying off and helping Rana take his game to the next level. He has batted calmly for Delhi under pressure like in the must-win match against Jharkhand in the Super League. “I understand my game I know what I have to do. I am clear in my mind. I know what I have to do once I am at the crease and I back myself and play,” he stated.

Rana hopes to carry his form into the IPL and perform for MI when he gets the opportunity, but before that he is keen to help Delhi finish the season with a title. “Our team has been doing well from the beginning itself. In days (Ranji Trophy) cricket unfortunately, we didn’t qualify (for the Ranji Trophy knockouts) by one run. We played the final in the one-day tournament (Vijay Hazare Trophy) and now we are doing well in T20s. We lost badly after quite some time yesterday (in the match against Gujarat). We have a chance of qualifying for the final if we win the next game. Now we are looking to play the final and hoping to end the season well.”

Prajakta Pawar

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Influx of all-rounders good for Indian cricket: Irfan

Baroda all-rounder says he is back to his best and his bowling will only get better

His career has been marred by injuries. As others gallop to the finish line, Irfan Pathan has been stopped in his tracks often. He has seen Ashish Nehra, his senior in the Indian team, make an India return and Hardik Pandya, his understudy in Baroda, earn a maiden national call-up.

But the Baroda captain is not wasting time lamenting about injuries that have pushed his career back. Instead, a much fitter Irfan is keen on making up for the lost time. The all-rounder who has been performing both the duties with aplomb this season, told BCCI.TV that he has added few new chapters to his overall game.

Excerpts from the interview:

Baroda have been winners of the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy twice and are once again looking good.

I am very happy with the way the boys are performing. The team is gelling well and performing well together. Unfortunately, the last two domestic seasons did not go too well for Baroda and we wanted to make sure we qualify for the knockouts this year. That was one aim at the start of the tournament. Considering the kind of team we have, not qualifying for the knockout rounds of the Ranji Trophy and Vijay Hazare Trophy was disappointing. We have a new coach in Jacob Martin and he is handling the team very well.

Earlier the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy was an inter-zonal competition. Now teams are divided into groups and play the tournament in two phases. What do you make of this change in the format?

The new format, not only for the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, but also for the Vijay Hazare Trophy has been fantastic. It has been a great job on the BCCI's part. Earlier, with Inter-Zonal format, teams kept playing each other for years. It would get monotonous. The level of cricket also stays low.

By having four groups from this year (2015-16), you get to play against new teams. Now you have to think on your feet. You need to think quickly, and when that happens, the standard of cricket is going to go up. I really think this is a step forward and it will benefit many young cricketers. They will have to try and match the next level (of competition), which will eventually benefit Indian Cricket. If you look at the T20 tournament, you don't play the knockouts, but you have three opportunities in the Super League stage to showcase your talent.

The other good thing is that these matches are telecast live and I want to congratulate the BCCI and Star Sports for the same. It gives so much exposure to so many cricketers. I grew up watching County Cricket. Now, when I see that our domestic cricket is telecast live, it makes me very happy.

It has been an all-round show from you this season. In your first T20, you picked up a five-for and later delivered with the bat too.

I am very happy with the way I have gone about my business in all three formats of the game. There have been many positives for me. I have been taking the side till the very end with a S/R of close to 150 and then staying not-out. I have also taken wickets at crucial times. My fitness has been very good. When I played the Ranji Trophy this season, there were a few things happening and I don't want to talk about it.

But my fitness was pretty good and I was fit and available. I bowled 20-25 overs in each innings of the Ranji Trophy matches. That's my fitness there. When you bowl 20-25 overs in an innings, you easily bowl about 40-45 overs in a match. I have been able to do that with my batting as well. I am really happy with my fitness and that has actually helped me play better cricket.

It is never easy to return after an injury. Would you say you are back to your best when it comes to bowling?

In terms of bowling, yes. The only thing is that the more you bowl, the better you get. But I am really happy with my batting. The one part about my batting I wanted to improve was to hit the long ball. Earlier, I needed to step out to hit the ball but now I can stand and deliver. I have been working on my bottom hand from the last two seasons, and this season it is paying off. Now, if I want to maneuver the ball, I can do that, or if I want to hit it hard, I can do that as well.

Bowling has always been my forte. I really feel I am pretty good with my bowling and I think it is only going to get better. The good thing is I am bowling in the right areas, swinging the ball, the zip is there and I just want to keep continue doing that.

You now seem to be in complete flow, but how difficult was it when you were injured. What have those injuries taught you?

Handling injuries is not easy. It is not easy for anyone, but as a sportsman, you have to accept that. Bowling is not a natural phenomenon to the body. There is lot of turn and twist and it will take a toll on your body. I take it as a part and parcel of a sportsman's life. You stay mentally very strong and that's what I am.

We have this new crop of all-rounders coming up in India. What is your take on that?

The most important thing for an all-rounder is to make sure he stays fit. You have to be ready for that and you need to prepare for that. At the same time, strength, flexibility and recovery are very important. It is good that we are now seeing more all-rounders, but they need to look after themselves. Having more all-rounders is better for Indian cricket.

Ashish Nehra has been your India team mate and you were also in the same IPL franchise. He has made a comeback. Considering you did so well in the 2007 World T20, the upcoming World T20 must be at the back of your mind.

I would like to congratulate Ashish Nehra. Making a comeback is never easy but he did that and all credit to him. I wish him all the luck for the Australian tour.

Talking about my personal form, I thought to myself that I will not talk about my comeback and I maintained that throughout the season. Whoever plays first-class and domestic cricket, the aim is to play for India. For me, playing for the country is ultimate. I am no different and I want to do that as well, but I don't want to talk too much about it. My job is to go out there and perform for whichever team I play for. Right now I am playing for Baroda. I wanted to take a five-wicket haul and I did that in my first T20 game and got a six-wicket haul in the Ranji Trophy as well. I wanted to score lots of runs and win matches. As a player I can make sure I keep performing and stay fit.

Performing and learning is something that never stops. Along the way, if that (India call-up) happens, well and good. I would be lying if I say I don't think about it. I do think about it, but don't want to talk much about it.

But does seeing Ashish Nehra return give you hope that there is a big scope for experienced players even as young players are joining the Indian side?

Experience is going to have a big place in cricket. To have an experienced bowler in the team makes it easy for other bowlers. That is what I am trying to do with Baroda. As a leader of the pack, I want to help out other bowlers.

I am sure Ashish Nehra will not only do well for himself, but guide other guys as well. With age, comes experience. Earlier, I used to hardly bowl out-swingers. I only bowled the in-swingers. Now, with my experience, I can bowl the away going delivery as well whenever I want to. I can bowl different kinds of slower deliveries as well.

Hardik Pandya has said he watches you and copies your training style. You have played a big role in his growth as an all-rounder.

When I saw him in the nets, I was very impressed with him. I spoke to our then coach Sanath Kumar and we wanted him to get going in the team. Any team with two-three all-rounders will be very successful. India's 1983 World Cup team had two-three all-rounders. For Baroda, I always wanted a leg-spinner and two-three all-rounders. With Hardik and me as fast bowling all-rounders it is really helping the team.

Moulin Parikh

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