Nitish Rana has received a glowing endorsement from Dinesh Karthik after he saw Kolkata Knight Riders through in a tricky chase against Delhi Capitals on Tuesday. Rana, who has dropped back into the middle order for Knight Riders after Venkatesh Iyer's emergence at the top, batted ahead of Eoin Morgan at No. 4 against Capitals, and scored the winning runs after a slim middle order had collapsed in the chase of 128. His unbeaten 36 off 27 in a low-scoring game complemented Sunil Narine's cameo (21 off ten) to keep Knight Riders in fourth place as they continued to turn their season around.
"I think he played a really sensible knock. The good thing was he was not out till the end, which is very important for us," Karthik said. "Just the way he was able to handle the pressure and take on the bowlers that he thought he could take on. It was nice to see him mature.
"It was important that he keeps playing innings like this, because he is capable of it. The most important thing in his life is if he wants to get into the national team and make a name for himself, he needs to keep producing these knocks. And he's definitely got the talent to do it."
Twenty-seven-year-old Rana had been among the most consistent uncapped Indian batters in the IPL since he broke through with Mumbai Indians in 2015, and debuted in ODIs and T20Is with India's second-string squad in Sri Lanka in July.
Rana's innings on Tuesday was in line with Brendon McCullum's demand of fearless cricket from his team. It was particularly evident during the 14th over, when their run rate had dropped below six and they needed 52 off 42. The Capitals were looking to sneak in an over from offspinner Lalit Yadav, who isn't a frontline option for them, but had kept the batters in check in his first two overs. Rana took his state (Delhi) team-mate for 14 runs off three balls, before Knight Riders closed off the over getting 20.
"It was a case of Nitish feeling good [about] the fact that he could take on a Lalit Yadav," Karthik, who was batting with Rana at that point, said. "So he backed himself to hit those shots. At that stage what we were discussing is that we need to take the game slightly deep, we need to have the right intent - if it is there, we'll go for it, if not we'll make sure we rotate strike if it is possible. It wasn't an easily rotatable wicket, so to speak, but there wasn't a plan like we need to take a Lalit Yadav on. In fact, it was actually harder to hit the spinners than the fast bowlers."
The win made it three out of four for Knight Riders since the IPL has resumed in the UAE, and the ten-ball victory in a low-scoring game has added to what is the best net run-rate among the four teams that are currently battling for the fourth spot on the table. It is symptomatic of a team that has looked a completely different side to the one that started the second half in seventh place.
"I think the fact that Venkatesh Iyer has opened and he's shown great intent," Karthik said in relation to what has changed for the team. "Shubman Gill is a far more free player, he's able to back himself to play his shots.
"The talent was obviously there, it was [about] getting the combination right. I think in many ways the combination is kind of set, we got off to a good run so it feels good. So just a couple of things falling in place. We have Lockie Ferguson bowling well. A lot of small things fell in place. People have had time to look back at themselves and what they need to do, and they've come back as much better cricketers."