Among left-hand batsmen who have scored more than 1000 T20 runs from the start of 2018, England captain Eoin Morgan (158.62) is one of the only two players - along with Rishabh Pant (159.11) - to boast a strike rate upwards of 155. As Morgan flies to the UAE to link up with the Kolkata Knight Riders following Wednesday's ODI cliffhanger against Australia, Nitish Rana, another left-hand batsman in the franchise's middle order, has his sights set on picking Morgan's brains this year at the IPL.
"I am very excited because he is a World Cup winner," Rana said of Morgan, who led England to ODI World Cup triumph at home last year. "And the second thing is that he is a rare left-handed batsman who is dominating white-ball cricket. [I am] looking forward to learning plenty from him because he is a World Cup winning captain. I really want to imbibe his leadership qualities - not just for my exploits in domestic cricket, but in the IPL as well."
Another passenger on the specially chartered flight from the UK is Australia quick Pat Cummins, who was bought for INR 15.5 crore (approx. $2.2 million in December) at the auction and is expected to lead the Knight Riders bowling attack this season. Rana believes Cummins could especially help the young uncapped Indian pacers in the squad get better at their craft.
"Our bowling attack is actually quite strong," Rana said. "With Cummins joining us, we get a boost in experience in our squad. Our young bowlers have been excellent in domestic competitions and for Knight Riders for the past two years, and my earnest wish is that they learn as much as they can from Cummins, so they can evolve into better players for the team."
Rana, who has been a vital cog in the Knight Riders middle order wheel since the 2018 season following his stint with the Mumbai Indians, was also hopeful that the seething pace of 2018 Under-19 World Cup winners Kamlesh Nagarkoti and Shivam Mavi could be a potent weapon for the franchise.
While Mavi gears up to play his second season for the Knight Riders, after a lukewarm debut in 2018 and a long injury layoff that began in December last year, Nagarkoti, who was picked up by the franchise for the 2018 IPL, is set to make his T20 debut.
"Nagarkoti - the poor guy has been injured for the last two seasons, but I've noticed in the intra-squad matches that he has become very strong physically and has taken care of the past injuries that have hurt him," Rana said. "He and Shivam Mavi have both been bowling at over 140kph and as a batsman, I can tell you that it's no joke facing bowlers who can get those speeds every delivery. It's challenging for any batsman."
Rana, who grew up playing cricket in the blazing heat of Delhi, said he is well attuned to playing under oppressive conditions the UAE typically offers. Clubbing that with his naturally aggressive style of play, one especially called for by head coach Brendon McCullum, who has come to the UAE on the back of leading the Trinbago Knight Riders to 12 wins in a row en route to the Caribbean Premier League title, Rana said the coach's ideas could sync well with his own.
"It's not that hot [in Abu Dhabi], considering I'm from North India, Delhi," Rana said. "Yes, it was taking a bit of time to adjust to the conditions, practising four hours, but we are used to it. We are all professional cricketers, so these things don't affect us much.
"Being from Delhi, I have always approached cricket in an aggressive manner. As a kid, growing up, I was a big fan of McCullum, so I was very excited when I first heard he was appointed our coach. The way he aggressively played as a batsman - I sincerely hope he coaches us the same way."
Rana is also looking forward to reprising his role as a part-time spinner for the Knight Riders, a task he first performed in his debut match for the side, dismissing Royal Challengers Bangalore's Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers in the same over. With the UAE surfaces expected to assist slow bowlers, Rana said he has prepared to make good use of his right-arm offspin this season too.
"In domestic cricket, I've been always bowling, so that skill has never been a new thing for me," he said. "I've been bowling for the last two years and that the tournament is happening in the UAE, is the best scenario for me, considering I'm likely to get decent grip off the surface. Besides, I am a much-improved bowler; I am actually hoping to bowl more overs this time around."
The Knight Riders play their first match, against defending champions Mumbai, on September 23, and will be the last franchise to kick off their IPL 2020 campaign.