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With defiance and innovation, Rana produces a nostalgic rescue act

Those early in attendance at the Brabourne Stadium exchanged glances around. Sam Billings, who missed the game due to an illness and was watching the game from his hotel room, may have confused it with the premise of his home county Kent taking on Lancashire at Canterbury. The reason for their intrigue laid rolled out in the middle with a heavy green tinge.

When the match began, Sunrisers Hyderabad’s new-ball pair Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Marco Jansen found prodigious swing off the surface that merely confirmed the first impressions of the pitch. It led Harsha Bhogle, on air, to draw parallels with a Test match’s first morning at the Imperial Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa. Jansen must have felt right at home with Dale Steyn watching on from the Sunrisers’ dugout.

It sure wasn’t the surface Delhi Capitals had racked on 215 for 5 on in the first innings in Kolkata Knight Riders’ previous game on Sunday last week. And it sure wasn’t a similar premise. For KKR batted first, having lost the toss, unlike Sunday, and lost the likes of Aaron Finch, Venkatesh Iyer and Sunil Narine inside four overs with only 31 on the board.

When the bowlers were exercising authority, out walked Nitish Rana in a bid to rescue the innings, as he so often has in the past, not least when he produced a man-of-the-match effort (80 off 56) against the same opponents in Chennai last year fresh after recovering from Covid-19 and a 27-ball 36 in a low-scoring chase against the Delhi Capitals in the second leg of the IPL last year.

On Friday night, he made superb use of the crease to start with. He sat deep in his crease and lapped Umran Malik to the fine leg boundary to get off the mark. He even converted a short ball from Shashank Singh into a length delivery by jumping down the crease to flat-bat it over the covers for his second boundary.

But it was his undoing of T. Natarajan, KKR’s chief tormentor in the powerplay, that stood out, timing the ball perfectly. A length ball in the twelfth over was heaved over midwicket for a six and was promptly followed by a wristy lift over the covers for a four. If that wasn’t enough of a statement of his counter-attacking knock, he moved to the leg side early and cut a length ball over third man for a six off an Umran Malik delivery clocked in at 149.6 kmph. The six broke the fridge in the dugout.

He wasn’t done with Natarajan though. Possibly expecting Rana to walk across and lap him, the left-arm pacer bowled a full off-cutter outside off only for Rana to lay bat on it and clear short fine leg for a boundary. Two balls later, he brought up his 14th IPL half-century, albeit after a gap of 19 innings.

When Natarajan returned for his last over, he bowled in the slot, a yorker gone wrong, and was drilled over his head for a boundary but he had the last laugh dismissing Rana the very next ball, in the eighteenth over, against the run of play, but the platform was well-laid for Andre Russell’s finishing fireworks, an unbeaten 25-ball 49.

Rana’s 54 may not have been enough on a pitch that eased out in the second innings but it was his innings that provided the Knight Riders some semblance of control on an evening when the bowlers called the shots.