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Interviews

I just want to make big runs - Nitish Rana

The Delhi batsman opens up on Gautam Gambhir's mentorship, lessons learnt at Mumbai Indians, mindset changes and success amid internal turmoil within the Delhi set-up

Nitish Rana made a mark during Mumbai Indians' victorious IPL campaign earlier this year, but it is the strides he has taken after the tournament that have made him a key player for Delhi as they pursue their eighth Ranji Trophy title. Delhi are already through to the knockout stages, and Rana is their leading run-scorer with 466 runs in five matches at 66.57. He will have at least two matches to add to his run tally.
In this chat with ESPNcricinfo, Rana offers a peek into his technique changes, Gautam Gambhir's mentorship, his Mumbai Indians stint and the things that have helped him thrive in the chaotic world of Delhi cricket
Delhi was in the middle of turmoil, both on and off the field, during your debut season in 2015-16. How did you thrive in that kind of environment?
As a newcomer, I was fresh. I didn't have much to lose and everything to gain. I got a lot of experience. I made two fifties, I guess, and one hundred. In my last innings against Karnataka, I scored a century.
I spoke to my seniors to learn how to convert my fifties into hundreds, and they told me a simple thing: 'When you were playing junior cricket, you got a certain quality of bowlers, and you could play them all day. But at the higher levels, like the Ranji Trophy, if the opposition has five bowlers, each of them will be of the same quality, so concentration levels need to be a lot stronger to score hundreds.'
My previous Ranji season wasn't great. In my first match, I made 150 [146 v Assam], but after that I flopped completely and didn't get a single fifty. These tough times are when I learned a lot, more than the good times.
Did you have good people to guide you?
Absolutely. My coach, my father and mother… there was a time last year when I got dropped from the Delhi side, before the IPL. I stopped believing in myself and doubted if I could make it at this level. Then, my family, coaches and the friends closest to me helped a lot. They made me believe that I am the same Nitish Rana of two or three years back and that I can make it.
When I got dropped, there were hardly 10 days between the last match and the IPL. So I got called up for the camp 10 days early. For three or four days, I did not lay a hand on a bat because I was so frustrated that I thought to myself, 'I don't want to bat. I will go straight to the IPL and see'.
I then spoke to Gautam bhaiyya [Gautam Gambhir] and my parents and my coach, and lots of things came out of it. There was a technical flaw that Gautam bhaiyya corrected. By the time I went to the IPL, a lot had changed in my batting. When Mahela Jayawardene [Mumbai Indians' coach] saw my batting and compared it to the previous year, he asked me how I had managed to make such a major change. I told him about the poor season I endured and the help I received from Gautam bhaiyya and asked him if it was fine. He told me that he had received a DVD of my batting a couple of months back, and when he saw the change from the previous season, it was exactly what he had wanted to correct.
Knowing that the effort I had put in before the season was working gave me confidence. If everyone wanted me to implement those changes, obviously it meant good for me. As I played more matches in the IPL, I grew in confidence, because things that had been going wrong in the previous season were now slowly falling in place.
"I am not the kind that would go and talk to every other person about my technique, but I know that even if I call Gautam bhaiyya at 2am to speak about a problem, he will stand up for me. That holds a lot of importance for me.
What were those technical changes?
My stance was a bit too side-on, as a result of which I couldn't see the ball until the end. So Gautam bhaiyya made me open up a bit and also asked me to work on my backlift. I haven't made too many major changes to my batting ever, but I felt then that it was the time to change things a bit.
IPL 2017 was a sparkling season for you. What did you learn from it?
Before the IPL, I didn't even know I had the ability to be a powerful striker. But going there and observing others around me hitting the ball, I gradually started developing the same.
Who helped you in that process?
My coach, Sanjay Bharadwaj. But most importantly, with the amount of local cricket that happens in Delhi, if I get out today, there is another match waiting for me tomorrow. So I never had the fear of failure. Even if there was fear, knowing that I had another chance coming my way the next day alleviated it. So I started doing new things in every match I played. Eventually, they became ingrained into my system. But had so many matches not been happening, and had I taken these things straight from practising in the nets to the IPL, things would have been very different and very difficult.
You played a crucial role for Mumbai Indians at No. 3 this year. What did the management expect from you?
I was just asked to enjoy my game because I am young. Had they put too much pressure on me, I probably wouldn't have done as well. I was just told to back myself and play my natural game. I did that and I was in my zone for the first few matches. In one match, I scored a fifty or something against Kolkata Knight Riders, a match which Hardik [Pandya] and I won. Till the 18th over, I didn't even know what the team score was, I was so much in my zone. What was happening around me made no difference to me. As a T20 game progresses, your heartbeat goes up and you feel tensed, but I felt no such thing. I was batting so freely in the trust that at some point, something or the other will work in my favour. That belief was very important.
The highs of the debut Ranji season were followed by patches of inconsistency in subsequent ones. How did you overcome it?
From what I have realised, I was overthinking. And it also had to do with circumstances and the people around me. People were forcefully pointing out the flaws in me, so I was caught up in myself. I was so trapped within myself that I wasn't able to concentrate. If I have to be honest with you, when I was batting last year, I couldn't see the ball. I was practically batting blindly. That is exactly what I discussed with Gautam bhaiyya, and with Sachin sir [Sachin Tendulkar] and Mahela Jayawardene after going to the IPL. Speaking to them cleared up my mind, and I realised, "Right, if they have played cricket this way, why don't I try the same?" Doing that, I noticed that I was at a lot more ease with my game.
You were dropped from Delhi's Vijay Hazare Trophy squad in controversial circumstances last season. Gautam Gambhir had a tiff with coach KP Bhaskar, because he felt youngsters were being made to feel insecure. Did you feel that way?
No, because I had enough belief in my ability to know that a bad phase was due. But, yes, the help I received from people around me was very important. The technical aspect is fine, but mentally, the way my family, friends and coach helped me was very important. Had I not spoken to those people, it would have made it difficult for me to get back into that zone.
What has Gambhir's overall influence been on your career?
He has been a huge influence. Me and Gautam bhaiyya are from the same club, so the first time I held a bat, he was batting at a net in front of me. And he was such a big name when I was young. I have been seeing him since childhood, whatever I have learned has been from him. I am not the kind that would go and talk to every other person about my technique, but I know that even if I call Gautam bhaiyya at 2am to speak about a problem, he will stand up for me. That holds a lot of importance for me.
What are your goals this domestic season?
The first year I played, I had just one hundred, and in the second year, too, I got only one hundred. That is what I am trying to develop: how to convert those fifties and sixties into hundreds. I just want to make as many big scores as I can. That is something I am learning and trying to adopt. I don't know how it will happen, but until I don't try it won't happen. So that's my goal: if I am playing, I play a big innings, because all around me, I see every other person is scoring a 200 or a 300. I, too, want to do the same: the day I bat, I bat big.
What is the work that's going in to achieve that?
One or two years back, I was young and immature. When I used to bat, till 40 or 50, I used to feel like I have to keep going. But as soon as I crossed 50, I used to relax and play the wrong shots. Whenever I have spoken to Gautam bhaiyya or any other senior, they have all told me to play one ball at a time. That's where my effort has been. Even if I'm batting at 150 or 300, I have all eyes on the ball I am about to face, and not the previous one or the one after that.

Akshay Gopalakrishnan is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo