Leadership role 'not new' for Nitish Rana in KKR set-up
Coach Chandrakant Pandit is "hoping Shreyas will be back very soon" after recovering from injury
Nitish Rana, the freshly-appointed interim captain of Kolkata Knight Riders, believes that his five-year association with the franchise and involvement as part of the leadership group has already prepared him to be battle-ready and an efficient leader.
The only difference this time, he says, is the captain's tag next to his name.
"For me this is not new. I have been playing a leadership role in this franchise for a few years. It's just that the tag is of a captain this time. And if I take extra pressure over a tag, then my game can potentially get ruined," Rana told reporters in Kolkata in his first media interaction as captain. "There is no real fear. Yes, when you do something new for the first time, there is some added pressure. But I have played almost 100 games, and one thing I know is that I thrive under pressure and I am embracing this new role."
Rana has previously captained 23 times across formats at the senior level and only 12 times in T20s, with an 8-4 win-loss record with Delhi in domestic cricket. His most recent stint as captain was in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy in the 2022-23 season in which Delhi reached the quarter-finals, and Rana led from the front by being their second-highest run-scorer and their only centurion in the tournament.
At the Knight Riders set-up, he will have the assistance of experienced team-mates Andre Russell and Sunil Narine, who have played 875 T20 games between them, along with two seniors in Tim Southee and Shakib Al Hasan, who have plenty of international captaincy experience. Add the brains of new head coach Chandrakant Pandit into the mix, and Rana believes he has plenty of help available.
"At the end of the day, it is cricket. Situations will be different and match conditions are different too," Rana said, when asked about the step up from captaining his state side. "Man-management is important here. This is a big competition so there are players who are seniors here. Russell has played almost 450 matches, Narine, too, is in that range, so we have a very experienced group. With that much experience, there is nothing for me to fear. [There is] Chandrakant sir too, so there are lot of people at my disposal to turn to [for assistance]."
Rana has played under three different captains at Knight Riders, while in Delhi he has played under former Knight Riders captain and two-time IPL champion Gautam Gambhir. He has also played under Rohit Sharma at Mumbai Indians in his breakout season (2017). Despite the variety of leaders he has closely worked with, he is keen to carve his own niche.
"I don't follow anyone's captaincy style, I just want to captain in my manner," he said. "I know that if I follow someone, then I will lose my touch. So I want to lead this side the only way I know... just wait for a few more days to learn about my captaincy, then you will have some talking points about my style."
'Hoping Shreyas Iyer will be back very soon' - Pandit
Rana ticked "all the right boxes" for the captaincy role according to Pandit. While saying that Rana had the full backing of his support staff, Pandit also stated that Iyer could be back later in the tournament.
"Whatever little cricket I have played or coached, I have never gone back over things like squad unavailability," Pandit said. "Shreyas' absence will make a difference since he is important, but this is truly unfortunate. We are hoping Shreyas will be back very soon and that will make a lot of difference to the team.
"When we select players and give responsibility to players, we see who is capable. And Nitish is capable. He has been with KKR for a long time and also has a strong domestic record. Like they say, 'all boxes to be ticked' and it has come down to that.
"I am comfortable knowing he can handle the role. We don't see whether someone is deserving or not. Every player has different skills, and after thinking about what Nitish brings to the table, we are confident with the decision. This decision is not just my decision but of the whole support staff, including our management."
For Pandit too, being head coach of an IPL team is also a new role. Even though he has had immense success in the domestic circuit by coaching Mumbai to three Ranji Trophy titles, Vidarbha to two and Madhya Pradesh most recently in 2021-22, Pandit admitted that the step-up would be vastly different from his past experiences.
He was also confident of a strong season despite missing the side's best batter, question marks over Lockie Ferguson's immediate fitness and the late arrivals of Bangladesh internationals Shakib and Litton Das.
"Challenges are everywhere. This is also one, but it is a challenge of a different kind," Pandit said. "After domestic cricket, to come here where there are experienced international-level players with different reputations is a different challenge.
"I have already said that the players we have, many of them have been playing for their country and are experienced players. Ultimately, the game is not different, only the format is. As long as any team plays as a unit, it will make a difference. A united group of players always make a difference. In terms of individuals, we have experience and we have players who know how to handle a variety of different situations. We want players to show courage, and if they do, the team will do well."
Sreshth Shah is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @sreshthx