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Match Analysis

Slow and deadly Harshit Rana adds cutting edge to KKR attack

Rana has repeatedly shut down some of the biggest hitters in the world and his spell in the IPL 2024 final only enhanced his reputation

Deivarayan Muthu
Mitchell Starc bowled arguably the ball of IPL 2024 in the final to hit the top of Abhishek Sharma's off stump with a ripping outswinger. In the next over, Vaibhav Arora bowled an outswinger of his own to make Travis Head look silly. Harshit Rana's dismissal of Nitish Kumar Reddy wasn't as headline-grabbing, but it was deception at its best.
In his very first over, Rana dug in three straight slower offcutters into the red-soil Chennai pitch. He found grip and bounce and bowled it so slow that it seemed more like an offbreak. Aiden Markram and Reddy were desperate to break free. Rana knew it and cranked the fourth ball up to 146kph. He got it to angle in towards off and straighten late off the seam. Reddy was beaten for pace, and could do nothing but nick it behind to the keeper.
Slow. Slow. Slow. Frighteningly fast.
Most other bowlers do it the other way. But there are some like Dwayne Bravo, Harshal Patel and now Rana who are bucking that T20 convention.
Once the ball became older and the Chepauk track slower, Rana rolled out one cutter after another. Heinrich Klaasen was on a run-a-ball 16. He was desperate to get a move on now. But Rana denied him the pace and shifted his line even wider - possibly wider than a set of stumps outside off - to have him chopping on the next ball with a 116.4kph offcutter. Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) were 90 for 8 in 15 overs. Their last recognised batter was gone. Game over.
Simon Helmot, SRH assistant coach,who has worked closely with Bravo in the CPL, delivered a glowing appraisal of Rana's defensive skills.
"He has some variations and I think his variation was his quicker ball and fuller ball," Helmot said after KKR thumped SRH to win their third IPL title. "Obviously, he has those slower deliveries as well. No excuses but nothing certainly went right for us with the bat. I think Klaasy [Klaasen] playing the ball onto the stumps from wide outside off stump was probably something that didn't go our way.
"He seems to have the ability to adapt his bowling style depending on the conditions. Obviously, he's well-versed with what the opposition are trying to do. Look, there's a rich battery of fast bowlers here in India that are exciting, I think, and that's what the IPL often to bring out - a lot of talent - which bodes well for the Indian cricket team and obviously we'll be looking for lots of players like him when it comes to auction time next year (laughs)."
In the first meeting between the two teams this season, Rana had similarly bested Klaasen with his slower cutter. The stakes weren't as high as on Sunday, but still defending seven off five balls after having conceded a six to Klaasen in the first ball of the final over on a flat Eden Gardens pitch is no mean feat.
The guy has been repeatedly shutting down some of the biggest hitters in the world. Against Lucknow Super Giants in Kolkata, Rana restricted Nicholas Pooran to 16 off 11 balls with cunning pace variations on wide lines from over the wicket.
In all, Rana picked up 19 wickets in 13 games, the most by an uncapped Indian player and only Jasprit Bumrah (20), Varun Chakravarthy (21) and Harshal (24) have more wickets than him this IPL. The slower ball has been responsible for ten of Rana's 19 wickets, according to ESPNcricinfo's logs. The variations have particularly served him well in the middle overs (between seven and 16) where he has the best economy rate (7.88) among fast bowlers who have bowled at least 100 balls during the phase this season. It's better than the likes of Pat Cummins (7.92), Harshal (8.96) and his own team-mate Andre Russell (10.31).
What makes Rana so difficult to put away?
"Oh! I haven't had to face him (laughs). He's learning his skills or he's learning what his skills are capable of this IPL," Starc said. "I obviously didn't know him beforehand. So, he seems pretty confident in his abilities. He started the season having had to close out a game against the second-best team in the tournament. He's bowled some tough overs and he's had to bowl the last overs in some games and he's taken a good amount of wickets throughout.
"I think he's certainly open to listening - whether it would be from Shreyas [Iyer] as captain or working around [with other bowlers at] training. He's certainly got the ability and he's only young. He's going to get better and better the more he works at it. The variations in his pace or slower balls have worked a treat at certain stages as well."
Rana was just a net bowler with Gujarat Titans in 2022 before KKR brought him in as a replacement player in the same season after Nitish Rana, his Delhi team-mate in the domestic circuit at the time, had suggested his name to the team management. In two seasons, he has improved beyond sight.
He is also a capable batter - he has a first-class hundred to his name and averages nearly 50 after nine innings - though KKR didn't require his secondary skill this season. He is already part of the India A system and IPL success could well put him in contention for higher honours.

Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo