IPL's emerging stars: Harshit Rana's walking the talk | Crickit
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IPL's emerging stars: Harshit Rana's walking the talk

May 15, 2024 09:27 AM IST

Once a nets bowler at Gujarat Titans, Harshit now is KKR’s pace mainstay with a strike rate better than Jasprit Bumrah

Sixteen wickets in nine innings at a strike rate better than Jasprit Bumrah (12.81 to Bumrah’s 15.55) should be the headlining act of Harshit Rana in this IPL. But social media can be an unforgiving appraiser if a celebrated dismissal of Virat Kohli—undoubtedly Harshit’s most prized scalp this season—carried with it a tinge of controversy.

Kolkata Knight Riders pacer Harshit Rana(PTI)
Kolkata Knight Riders pacer Harshit Rana(PTI)

Rules of the game, upheld by Hawk-Eye, said Harshit’s full toss wasn’t above waist level when Kohli—who was anyway standing well out of his crease—was forced into a fumbling miscue at the Eden Gardens last month. Kohli, however, left fuming, giving the impression he had been wronged. He wasn’t. Harshit knew it, but he stayed away from controversy when asked about it later.

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When Harshit did react though, albeit not in a way most pacers do after getting a wicket, he was handed a one-match ban. Back after the ban, another wicket, and this time Harshit shushed himself and headed back to the top of his run-up. Controversy has chased Harshit in the most bizarre ways, but so has success.

And considering how short-lived IPL success can be, Harshit wouldn’t have liked it any other way. From a nets bowler at Gujarat Titans in 2022 to becoming a pace mainstay of KKR within two years involved a lot of pluck, and a little bit of luck as well.

“When Rasikh injured his back, we had to get a replacement player. Nitish Rana has always liked Harshit. So he suggested to Baz (former KKR head coach Brendon McCullum) that we should get Harshit on board,” former mentor of Kolkata Knight Riders David Hussey told Knights TV. Abhishek Nayar, KKR’s assistant coach, followed up on the request with a trial. And soon, Harshit got his first contract. It wasn’t surprising that Harshit’s debut lacked expectedness. Second ball on his debut was smashed for a boundary but Harshit bounced back with Mitchell Marsh’s wicket the very next ball, setting off on a sojourn that has now placed him firmly among the most promising emerging fast bowlers of the IPL.

Ability to crank up the speed to the 140s was the first box ticked for Harshit, with the 6’2 height acting as a great facilitator of the shorter length deliveries. But incredibly promising is the skill of reading the pitch well, adjusting the lengths accordingly and cutting down on pace if the track plays too well. “It's difficult to judge wickets but once you do that, it becomes easier,” said Harshit during this IPL.

Harshit makes no bones about how useful backroom guidance in the form of data and matchup analysis has been. But central to the belief that keeps him going is the faith the management has in him.

“The kind of cricket we are playing I don't think there is any safe score. It can be difficult to keep that belief going when matches oscillate like that,” said Harshit after KKR’s one-run win against Kohli’s RCB. “But it’s the faith from the management like Gautam Gambhir or Chandrakant Pandit sir, where they say ‘as long as the match is on, you must tell yourself that you can win’ that helps.”

Harshit has walked that talk too. When RCB needed 37 from 18 balls—a perfectly gettable ask these days—at Eden, he bowled a six-run over and took a wicket to make the equation more difficult. With a marauding Heinrich Klaasen on strike, Harshit was asked to bowl the last over where Sunrisers Hyderabad needed 13 off six. First ball was smoked for a six several rows inside Eden Gardens but Harshit pulled back with two wickets as KKR ultimately held on for a four-run win.

Secret to that comeback? Of course, nerves of steel from Harshit. But some calming advice as well. “He was a bit nervous when he was coming to bowl,” said KKR captain Shreyas Iyer later. “So I told him, 'Even if we lose, it's fine'.” Harshit didn’t let that happen.

Bowlers have had wretched luck all summer in this IPL but it’s this doughtiness in the face of adversity that makes Harshit such a feisty character. Only 22, Harshit made his first-class debut for Delhi in 2022, but an ‘A’ tour of South Africa at the turn of the year is an early indicator of how things might flow if he ticks all the right boxes. Harshit knows that as well.

“I just want to play for India,” he had said after taking 3/24 against Lucknow Super Giants earlier in May. “But that's the long term goal. Whatever team I am playing for, be it KKR or my state, I focus on what I have to do today. That day's performance will decide my future.”

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