Kolkata Knight Riders have had four captains in the IPL, and Nitish Rana grew up idolising two of them. His father was a fan of Sachin Tendulkar, his brother a fan of Rahul Dravid and as a budding left-hand batsman, Rana became a fan of Sourav Ganguly, copying his style in street cricket and crying in his room when his idol disappointed with the bat.
But the man who had an even greater influence on Rana was Gautam Gambhir. Rana and Gambhir played club cricket together in Delhi, and Gambhir was Rana's first captain when he first played in the Ranji Trophy for Delhi. They never got to play together for the Knight Riders, though, with Rana joining the team in 2018, the same year Gambhir left for the Delhi Capitals.
"Where I stayed, everyone said I could mimic cricketers' actions really well. So people started saying, 'Act like dada, act like dada', so playing like him in my early days, copying his style back then, Ganguly's style got ingrained in my game," Rana told kkr.in. "But when I started playing seriously then it was Gambhir, because I grew up watching him bat from close quarters at the club. So just from seeing him bat in the flesh, I have picked up a lot from him.
"I don't think our batting styles match, but people say that. And even if they say that, I have absolutely no problem with that because I have witnessed his batting so much from such close quarters for the last 12 years, that if there's even a little glimpse of him in me, I will consider myself lucky."
When Gambhir stepped down as Delhi captain in 2018, it was Rana who took over.
"If you ask me about the biggest achievement of my career, I will say it was being appointed Delhi captain," Rana said. "The best feeling was to see Gambhir playing his last year [of domestic cricket] while I was captain. I played my first year under him and he played his last year under me. Gambhir had said that I was the right candidate to lead Delhi. Imagine such statements coming from your idol. This had to be one of the biggest moments of my life."
While he's now a mainstay of the Knight Riders line-up, Rana's breakthrough IPL performance came against them: a 29-ball half century for Mumbai Indians in 2017, which he believes played a role in the Knight Riders signing him for INR 3.40 crore at the 2018 auction. He's scored four fifties for them over the last two seasons, but his favourite performance in a Knight Riders jersey was one where he grabbed headlines with the ball.
"My favourite Knight Riders match is my debut match - against RCB - when I got Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers out in one over. Made 34 too in our win," Rana said. "I was out that day playing a poor shot, and Dinesh Karthik told me that day that if you want to be a big player, you need to finish games, and that has stayed with me. It was an important game for me, coming into a brand-new side, that performance was comforting."
Rana says he has become better at embracing failure, and he credits that to motivational speaker Mike Horn, who worked closely with the India team that won the 2011 World Cup and the Germany football team that won the 2014 World Cup. Over the years, Horn has also worked with the Knight Riders.
"I have been following Mike Horn on Instagram for a long time, even before I joined KKR," Rana said. "I looked up to him and often wondered how he managed to do so many things. When I was young, I used to get scared of pace and had doubts if I could ever face 140-plus kph fast bowling. When I personally met him and attended his lectures, I realised he was just not afraid of failures. He knows only how to gain [from them]. I tried to absorb this quality from him. If you take up anything with this mindset that you have nothing to lose, you can only gain and perform better."
There are two more mantras that Rana has imbibed into his batting, beliefs that allow him to draw the distinct line between being aggressive and over aggressive.
"A friend once told me, 'whenever you feel like hitting a six in the next ball, just delay your plan'," Rana said. "He also said, 'the time we need to focus the most is when you're batting like a dream. Because this is the time you get complacent or overconfident.' When we chase a target with the required rate of eight or ten in an over, I can deliver easily if I show my aggression. But I stop myself many times because understanding the situation and batting accordingly is needed. It's a technique that comes with practice. It took me a lot of time to learn the art."