'Always wanted Virat Kohli to acknowledge me': How IND's batting maestro boosted young Nitish Reddy's morale – Exclusive | Crickit

'Always wanted Virat Kohli to acknowledge me': How IND's batting maestro boosted young Nitish Reddy's morale – Exclusive

ByAditya Maheshwari, New Delhi
Jul 06, 2024 02:09 PM IST

Nitish Reddy summarises his journey, playing the IPL, getting encouragement from Virat Kohli and earning his maiden India call-up.

"You will hear his name; you will hear it a lot in the future" - Nitish Reddy made sure the cricketing world noticed his talent in IPL 2024 as veterans like Mohammad Kaif were highly impressed with his all-round skills on the big stage.

Virat Kohli's surprise handshake that triggered Nitish Reddy's enthusiasm(Instagram/@nitish_kumar_reddy_7)
Virat Kohli's surprise handshake that triggered Nitish Reddy's enthusiasm(Instagram/@nitish_kumar_reddy_7)

The over-reliance on Hardik Pandya as a fast-bowling all-rounder has hurt India in the past as they failed to identify his backup, but IPL 2024 turned out to be a glimmer of hope for the Men in Blue with Reddy taking center-stage. Sunrisers Hyderabad signed the young Andhra star in 2023, but his opportunities were limited. A year later, the change in management and leadership worked wonders for Nitish, and he announced himself, scoring 303 runs and taking three wickets.

In a star-studded overseas line-up, Reddy managed to make his presence felt. Skipper Pat Cummins and the team management also backed him to do the tough job – finishing the innings with bat and bowling crucial overs – and he didn't disappoint. The right-handed batter grabbed the limelight in the group stage match against Rajasthan Royals, where he scored a 42-ball 76 – a knock embellished with eight sixes. Reddy was also asked to roll his arms on a regular basis and bowled around 13 overs in the tournament – picking three wickets at an economy rate of 11.62.

Reddy, 21, who grew up idolising Virat Kohli, wasn't a specialist all-rounder from the beginning. He gracefully accepted that bowling is not his strongest forte but is willing to work hard on it to return as an improved version next season. In an exclusive conversation with Hindustan Times, Nitish admitted that a lot has changed in his life after IPL 2024, and he is elated with the recent progression of his game.

" A lot of people are recognising me in public and I enjoy that. If you ask me, there were a lot of responsibilities last season as well. I had a role in an IPL team, so I had to play according to that. So, I'm really happy that a lot of progression came into my game. I would be so happy if we ended up as a winning side, but it's part of the sport," Reddy said.

The young superstar said that he started as a pure batter but with time, realised that he had to do something extra to stand head and shoulders above the rest. Hence, Reddy decided to polish his bowling.

"Growing up, I was not a perfect all-rounder; I was a pure batsman and looked up to Virat Bhai. But when I really thought about becoming an all-rounder, I looked up to Ben Stokes and Hardik Pandya, they are like pure, genuine all-rounders," Reddy said.

Reddy belongs to a generation of players who don't shy away from expressing themselves against the giants of international cricket. He asserted that playing as an all-rounder brings a lot of responsibilities to a player, and the pressure level spikes up automatically. But then again, that's what he likes the most. He also pointed out how the all-rounder's job is a bit difficult compared to others, and he is willing to put up the extra hard work to hone his bowling skills.

"Obviously, being an all-rounder, it's a huge responsibility because we have to make the team play better in batting, bowling and fielding - we have to do the three aspects. We are under pressure, and I like playing in pressure situations. I want to be part of the pressure situations as it helps me perform better," Reddy added

"If you asked me, being an all-rounder is a tough job, we have to recover faster, have to be disciplined about a lot of things and have to sacrifice some things which you like. So, if you want to be the greatest all-rounder, you have to do the small things and I am doing it. I have seen a lot of progression in my game. Bowling-wise, it would have been a little better season for me, one-two game didn't go my way. But next year, I will be focussing on my bowling as well and will return as a good bowling all-rounder," Nitish emphasised.

Kohli, the modern-day great, has influenced the young crop of players with his batting and dedication towards the game. And like many, Reddy too is one such youngster who idolises the former India skipper. He shared a special moment with the batting maestro in IPL 2024, which boosted his morale and made him do even better.

Virat Kohli's surprise acknowledgment

"I haven't talked a lot with Virat Bhai. First year in IPL when I played against him, I didn't bat and only got the chance to bowl. Meanwhile, this year, when I was doing well, we had the RCB match. I always wanted Virat Bhai to acknowledge me and say that I am a good player as well. In that match, I didn't get the opportunity to bat as we scored 270-odd runs. After the match, when the two teams shook hands – when I was shaking his hands, he was like - 'Hi Nitish, How are you?' I was literally not expecting that he would remember my name. He probably would have seen me playing earlier in the tournament. It really boosted me a lot that Virat bhai is watching my games, and I have to be a little conscious about it and make him watch me a bit more," he added.

Getting the golden opportunity to play under the leadership of a World Cup-winning captain, Reddy was often backed by Cummins on numerous occasions last season. Reddy revealed whatever the situation was, the Aussie pacer never lost his calm on and off the field, which makes him stand apart as a leader.

"I was so honoured to play with him because he led a World Cup-winning team. So, as a player, I always looked to him, like how kind of a captain he is. We rarely see fast bowlers captaining a side and tasting success. So, I always wanted to look up to him as a player and see how he manages his team as well. He is so calm and composed, even on the field, he never loses his anger and maintains the coolness in him. He thinks a lot about the tactics and plays with his mind that's what I like about him," he added.

The end of IPL 2024 was a bit anti-climactic for Reddy. On his birthday, Reddy wanted to deliver a performance for the ages, but SRH fell short against Kolkata Knight Riders.

"It was my first final, and we lost. I was really down and senior players like Bhuvi Bhai came to me and supported me really well. The IPL final was on my birthday - even when the IPL schedule came out, and I saw the final date was 26, at that time, I thought that we should be making the final, and I had to make a good note of my 21st, somehow it ended in a bad way. When I was fielding, I was thinking about my wicket as I had practiced the pull shot about 50 times and was a bit low. I was pretty disappointed by the final's result, but the way we kind of play this IPL season, it's something I would cherish for the rest of my life. It's not easy to dominate the teams and score 270 and 260-plus scores, but we had a really good season," he added.

Despite the heartbreaking defeat in the final, the IPL 2024 brought a big change in Reddy's life as he is now associated with the same brand as his idol Kohli – Puma.

"Being part of PUMA, he (Virat Kohli) is the brand ambassador and PUMA guys will make me meet him soon. It's a good feeling to partner with PUMA, really happy to be part of the family, it's a brand, Virat bhai, Mohammad Shami, Neymar and Harmanpreet Kaur - they are all associated with it. For youngsters like me and Riyan, I am happy to be part of this family," he said.

With India entering the transitional phase, Nitish received his maiden India call-up for the upcoming Zimbabwe tour. Unfortunately, a last-minute injury pulled him down, and he was ruled out. However, Reddy is in no mood to get demotivated by this and is focussing on regaining fitness and working hard so that he can grab whenever opportunity that comes next.

"Obviously, representing India is a goal for every budding Indian cricketer, and I was so close to that. You got to know that you are going to represent India, and suddenly, this injury occurred, it kind of hit me back, but it's part and parcel of the game. I would say I got injured at the wrong time, but anyway, what happened has happened, and I don't want to get demotivated by it. I want to focus on my future, I have to be ready for the opportunity that lies in front of me. I am focussing on my shoulder and injury at present and hoping to be back on the field and rocking it," he concluded.

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