From indisciplined youngster to KKR spearhead: The Harshit Rana story

Harshit Rana with KKR players
Harshit Rana with KKR players (PC: KKR/X)

Subhayan Chakraborty at Eden Gardens

Harshit Rana’s journey to becoming Kolkata Knight Riders’ lead pacer had its ups and downs. He was a net bowler with the Gujarat Titans in IPL 2022 when KKR’s Rasikh Salam, now with Delhi Capitals, got injured. This was when KKR’s Nitish Rana, who also hails from New Delhi like Harshit, suggested to Abhishek Nayar that they call up this 6ft 2inch pacer, who back then hadn’t even made his senior debut for Delhi’s state team on the domestic circuit.

Call it fate, but Nayar was impressed by Harshit on the first day of his trial, and KKR went on to hand him his debut that season. More interestingly, Harshit was smashed for a boundary off his very first ball on his IPL debut, with whispers of ‘who is this kid?’ increasing in the stands. The pacer showed his mental fortitude by picking up his maiden IPL wicket two balls later, which was his only success from two matches in IPL 2022. The next season, he played six matches and returned with five wickets.

“Nitish and Harshit have had a good bond from Delhi,” said Shravan Kumar, Harshit’s childhood coach, whose most famous student is India pace icon Ishant Sharma. “When Harshit was playing age-group cricket for Delhi, he used to be a net bowler sometimes for the senior side or some of their players. He had always done well in age-group cricket, but by being with the senior boys in the state team, he must have caught the eyes of the IPL scouts. When an opportunity came at KKR, Nitish helped Harshit get a trial and the rest is history.”

In IPL 2024, Harshit has taken nine wickets in seven matches at an economy rate of 10.25. Even given that he bowls in the Powerplay and death overs, and with the flatter decks in the ongoing tournament, that economy rate is a tad high. Harshit made headlines in KKR’s game against Sunrisers Hyderabad earlier this season when he defended 12 runs off the last over with a rampaging Heinrich Klaasen and Shahbaz Ahmed at the crease. Despite being hit for a six off the first ball, He kept his calm and scalped both wickets to help KKR win the humdinger. His flying-kiss celebration towards Klaasen attracted a fine of 60 per cent of his match fee, but he was a match-winner for his side.

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Harshit Rana for KKR
Harshit Rana for KKR (PC: KKR/X)

“What is a pacer without aggression?” asked Kumar. “I didn’t find anything wrong with it. It was just a flying kiss. Pacers have that natural aggression, and Harshit has been super competitive from the beginning. When a batter hits a last-ball four or six, he is allowed to celebrate any which way he wants, but why can’t a bowler do that? He was brilliant in that over. The composure to execute slower ones, the guts to bowl the slower ones to someone like Klaasen, it was a proud day for him. But just like a batter is not made in one day, a bowler can’t be defined by one match. He will have to bowl like that every day or even better.”

With the 200-run mark breached nine times in 10 innings at Eden Gardens, how is Harshit supposed to keep his economy rate down?

“That is where his cricketing smarts need to take over,” said Kumar. “Cricket is a fast-evolving sport now, and one has to evolve with it. He needs to think, if a batter is smashing boundaries for fun, then how can he stop him? I know it is a difficult ask given the kind of pitches they are making, but a bowler has to do his job. If you can’t stop the run flow, then go for wickets. If you can’t pick wickets, then you have to bowl defensively.

“You need to have everything to be a top pacer. To be honest, the quality of the white ball has gone down drastically, and not only Harshit but even Ishant says the same. It doesn’t swing after two overs, no chance of reverse in a T20 game, the seam is not as prominent as it used to be, and then the flat pitches and dew – it is tough to be a bowler.”

Harshit Rana
Harshit Rana (PC: X)

Unlike some of the young Indian pacers, Harshit has lean muscle mass, a well-built physique, and is tall. “He got that from his father,” explained Kumar. “It’s his strong athletic genetics. His father, Pradeep, was an athlete and used to take care of his off-field training, and that is how he has built a strong physique at a young age. He is a natural.”

Harshit was part of the India A squad in South Africa at the turn of the year, where Rahul Dravid, senior head coach, had a word with him. Though Harshit picked up an injury on the tour, words of advice about being disciplined, and the importance of diet and rest changed something in Harshit.

“When his father brought him to me as a young kid, I could figure out he had the ingredients to be a good fast bowler,” said Kumar. “He was hardworking, aggressive, with a good work ethic. But what I didn’t like was his indiscipline off the field. He was very careless and used to hang out with his non-cricketing friends. It could have derailed his career, but thankfully it didn’t. But as he kept playing, he understood he can play for India, and that is where his mentality towards the game changed. He respects it now and values what he can achieve. If he can stay injury-free and disciplined, he will play for India one day.”

Also Read: Sunil Narine Key to KKR’s Fortunes Amidst Bowling Struggles: Can He Outshine Delhi Capitals in IPL Showdown?