CHENNAI: Nitish Rana has played multiple roles for Kolkata Knight Riders since joining the side in 2018. Spin-hitter through the middle-overs? Check. Fire-fighting to rescue a lost cause? Check. Staying till the end to try and post a respectable target? Check.
On Thursday against Delhi Capitals, Nitish Rana, who came in at No 6, played all three roles across 12 overs to lift them to 146. When he walked in, the score was 4/35 from 7.3 overs. They were in a mess, their batting was about as entertaining as watching paint dry in slow motion (it was painful) and the run-scoring was non-existent.
After fire-fighting with Shreyas Iyer — the pair stitched a 48-run stand to inject some life into proceedings — the southpaw blossomed at the back-end of the innings to finish with 57 off 34 balls. The rest of the team, put together, made 85 off 86 balls, an indication of just how bad Kolkata were and just how good Rana was. What worked for Rana was he picked his battles and angles, played out Kuldeep Yadav who had another fine night's work (4/14 off three overs) and laid into Delhi's sixth bowler (24 off the 32 runs Lalit Yadav conceded came from Rana's blade).
Delhi made heavy weather of chasing 147 — they only got there with four wickets and 6 balls remaining — but will nonetheless be happy to move to eight points on the table.
Moving away from Rana, Kolkata, who have now lost five games on the bounce, have to look at themselves in the mirror to escape this batting funk they find themselves in. It's a franchise that has embraced excel sheets and analytics. In Brendon McCullum, they also have somebody who marries data with lived real world experiences.
At Wankhede, both McCullum and the team of analysts would have come to the same conclusion. They aren't very good right now. They must undergo a surgery or two if they still have designs on making a late charge to the playoffs. It's not outside the realm of possibility: they did something similar last year which enabled them to reach the final.
It should start with some sort of stability at the top. Right now, they don't even know what kind of starts they are after. Against Delhi, they opened with Aaron Finch and Venkatesh Iyer, a third different pair in three games (they have had four different opening pairs in nine matches).
It suggests the franchise, renowned for role clarity, are caught in two minds. It's meant they have opened with solid but unspectacular options (Ajinkya Rahane and Venkatesh), attacking openers (Finch and Sunil Narine), a mix of both (Venkatesh and Finch) as well as hoping for the best (Sam Billings and Narine).
The way their openers went about against Delhi's new ball bowlers was an apt metaphor of the team right now. Their batting, and, to be fair, most of the first innings, was slow. Even if the strip was taking some turn and the ball wasn't coming on to the bat, strokeplay wasn't arduous. But they scored only three boundaries in the first 10 overs.
At one stage, even 120 appeared like a dot on the horizon before Rana's late assault. If they are to replicate what they did last season (they won six of their last nine league games), it's time to get back to the drawing board.
Brief scores: KKR 146/9 in 20 ovs (Rana 57 ; Kuldeep 4/14, Mustafizur 3/18) lost to DC 150/6 in 19 ovs (Warner 42, Powell 33 n.o, Umesh 3/24).