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Does Nitish Rana deserve a place in India's T20I squad?

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If there is one player who has performed better than most other Indian players in the last four editions of the Indian T20 League but his performances have been forgotten easily, that has to be Nitish Rana.

He has featured for two of the most successful Indian T20 League franchises, Mumbai and Kolkata, over the last four seasons and he has proven his calibre as a batsman for both the teams.

The 26-year-old has 1085 Indian T20 League runs to his name at a healthy average nearing 30 and a good strike-rate of 134.61. Not only that, these runs include eight fifties as well and he has done all this while batting in the middle-order, mostly between number three and five for the teams.

Rana's batting numbers are certainly good but are they good enough for him to deserve a place in India's T20I squad? One might say no, and they won't be completely wrong as there are players like Rishabh Pant, Dinesh Karthik and Sanju Samson, among others, who have better numbers in this role and are probably more accomplished batters as well.

However, what makes Rana an intriguing option for the national T20 setup is his ability to pick up wickets with the ball. He was more of a part-time spinner until 2018. However, his bowling skills have been rigorously used by the teams 2019 onwards.

In fact, no other player (batting between positions 3 and 5) with 500 or more T20 runs since 2019 has a better bowling strike-rate than Rana. Not only that, his bowling average and economy rate are also the second-best during this period. He has left even accomplished all-rounders like Glenn Maxwell, Mohammad Nabi and Shakib Al Hasan behind as far as his bowling skills are concerned.

Rana, in fact, is a street-smart operator with his off-breaks. He bowls a tight line and varies his pace well too. Moreover, the flat trajectory he bowls only makes it hard for batsmen to hit him for boundaries regularly. He has a disciplined approach too and rarely strays away from the line for which the field is set. That is the main reason behind his success as a bowler.

As far as his batting is considered, it has really come off well. Although his average of 25.96 might seem to be quite lower than most other players in the list above, it has to be remembered that he has had very less number of not outs (3) as compared to other players during this period.

Kolkata follow an attacking batting approach irrespective of situations and that's why there is lesser emphasis on playing through the innings. A major chunk of Rana's matches (14 of them) during this period was for Kolkata and that explains the lesser number of not outs, and consequently his low average. However, he has accumulated all these runs while striking at a healthy rate of 132.27.

Moreover, his eight scores of 30 or more in his total of 27 innings, out of which five have crossed the 50-run mark, explain how good he is as a middle-order batsman. 

So these figures sum up that he is a pretty good T20 asset for any side. But now the question is; where would he fit in the Indian playing XI? The answer most probably has to be at number 5. That position is being currently marshalled by Manish Pandey until the situation demands more aggressive batsmen like Hardik Pandya or Rishabh Pant. 

However, Pandey has always been someone who has batted in the top four and he requires some time at the crease to unleash his best as well. Rana, with his bowling ability, adds another dimension to India's T20 side in that role. And he can play in all gears in any situation. Aggression comes naturally to him as a batsman.

The Indian top five lacks a bowling option as well. None of their top five batsmen have the ability to bowl at the moment and that's why Rana is a good option to have. KL Rahul, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli and Shreyas Iyer followed by Rana makes a destructive top five. Iyer and Rana provide India with a much-needed cushion in case India go through a rare top-order collapse. Moreover, Pant and Hardik can be at their destructive best at number 6 and 7 if Rana is drafted into that number five position. 

International cricket, however, is a different ball game though. Even a beast of a batsman like Pant hasn't been able to emulate his domestic success at the international level for India. So Rana's success as a batting all-rounder in the last one year or so doesn't necessarily warrant fruitful returns at the international level too. But his numbers at the domestic level do make a compelling case and hence, he is worth a try.

Feature image courtesy: AFP / Dibyangshu Sarkar

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