Nitish Kumar Reddy - a beacon of hope to Indian cricket

That only Hardik offers value in both aspects is enough to excite everyone whenever a novice in this category arrives on the IPL stage.
Nitish Kumar Reddy is a good player.?width=963&height=541&resizemode=4
Not that he has been the only run-scorer among all-rounders, but Nitish has also shown ample promise with his bowling, more than his counterparts, despite not being used according to his strengths.

Some things are rare, some very rare. Then comes quality pace bowling all-rounders in the Indian circuit.

It’s not that there are no options available; India have a few of them dispersed in different IPL teams. Shivam Dube, Venkatesh Iyer, and Vijay Shankar have been around the setup for a while. But who is even close to what Hardik Pandya offers? None.

That only Hardik offers value in both aspects is enough to excite everyone whenever a novice in this category arrives on the IPL stage. That’s why Nitish Kumar Reddy has hogged the instant limelight in IPL 2024. Not that he has been the only run-scorer among all-rounders, but Nitish has also shown ample promise with his bowling, more than his counterparts, despite not being used according to his strengths.

Let’s start with the batting part. Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH), a team full of serial boundary-hitters, were reeling at 39/3, soon turning to 66/4 in the 10th over, against Punjab Kings (PBKS) in Mullanpur. Nitish, playing only his second IPL innings, targeted his bowlers precisely to take SRH to a fighting 182/9, which proved enough in the end. After a slow start, he accelerated brilliantly, hitting 50 runs in his final 19 deliveries, including three boundaries and five maximums.

His best IPL score came against Rajasthan Royals (RR) on a tricky Hyderabad deck. SRH again lost two quick wickets, and Travis Head struggled for fluency. Nitish gauged the situation and took an aggressive route, racing away to a 30-ball fifty and staying unbeaten on 76(42) to power his team to 201/3, again proving just enough for SRH.

If anything, Nitish showed prudence under pressure like Hardik Pandya with the willow. Hardik has often saved India by arresting collapses or attacking to shift the pressure on the opponent. His counterattacking fifty against Pakistan in the Champions Trophy 2017 final and a 40-run knock while coming at 31/4 against the same opponent in the T20 World Cup 2022 are just to name a few.

Nitish presented different batting gears and wisdom to target his prey in both fifties. In both games, seamers were operating in full flow, so Reddy took spinners down and paced his innings beautifully. His knock provided breathing space to Travis Head in the RR game, who laid a foundation for Heinrich Klaasen to take over.

Also Read: T20 World Cup 2024: Making sense of the Rinku Singh omission

Now, the bowling part is arguably more important than his batting, for its an area not many Indian all-rounders are growing in. At first glance, Nitish’s bowling figures show three wickets at 46.66 runs apiece. It might look pretty average from the statistical point of view, but his modus operandi has been impressive in patches.

His lengths have been pretty predictable, for Reddy has grabbed all three wickets via short deliveries. His learning and adaptability are intriguing because that’s not his natural length as a bowler. Preliminary, Nitish is a new-ball bowler who can swing the cherry with his gentle pace.

His speeds hover around late 130 kph, making him an ideal bowler for the powerplay. But SRH have a powerplay maestro in Bhuvneshwar Kumar, while Pat Cummins is also more penetrative in this phase. Then, teams also have a few overs reserved for matchup purposes.

It has tempted Nitish to bowl in the middle overs when the ball has taken a considerable beating and has nothing left to exploit anything in the air. Still, he has shrewdly come out of his comfort zone and shortened his lengths to make himself more utilisable. In a season where batters have been hell-bent on aggressive, Nitish has shown enough glimpses of brilliance in a thoroughly new role.

He doesn’t have the pace like Hardik Pandya, who can crank up to 140 kph, but proper usage can bring the best out of Nitish, the bowler. He averages 22.96 in First Class cricket, depicting he is more than a handy seamer. Even teams use Hardik early in the innings to extract the most out of him, even though he is a decent middle-overs enforcer, so Nitish should also get the same liberty, at least at this stage of his career.

Whenever talks are about Hardik Pandya’s place in the Indian side, the selectors have a soft corner, given the balance he provides. He hasn’t been at his best in T20s but gets selected in the upcoming T20 World Cup based on his all-round skills that no other player in the country offers. It’s kind of a temptation to persist with Hardik, irrespective of his form.

When Hardik Pandya injured himself in the World Cup 2023, India had to bring in two players - Suryakumar Yadav and Mohammed Shami - to balance the XI. That’s the value of Hardik. Concisely, he is irreplaceable.

Whenever Pandya is absent, the Indian team management has tried various options like Venkatesh Iyer and Shivam Dube in a bid to find an alternative for Hardik. Vijay Shankar and Shardul Thakur have also received superior treatment. If we are honest, none of them are/were the master even in a single department to be part of the national team, barring Dube, who has improved as a batter only in the last year.

It’s just that they can bat a bit or roll over their arms as a secondary skill. So, despite giving low returns in both facets, they have been preferred over specialists to equilibrate the XI since international cricket doesn’t provide with an impact player. But no one could get even close to Hardik’s capabilities.

For some reason, India have also leaned towards more utility players in white-ball cricket over specialists, tempting them to try more all-rounders. Take Shardul Thakur, for example. India went for him over Mohammed Shami, the tournament's leading wicket-taker, in the initial phase of the World Cup last year.

It took an injury to Hardik to go for specialists in Suryakumar Yadav and Mohammed Shami over Shardul, who is neither a 10-over bowler nor more than a No.8 batter. When Venkatesh Iyer did well in the second half of IPL 2021, India included him immediately in white-ball assignments, including an away ODI series against South Africa. It also shows desperation to find more options in the all-rounder’s department.

Hardik is injury-prone. His injuries have already proved costly in the T20 World Cup 2021 and World Cup 2023. So, India can’t relax when he is fit and around.

Nitish might look like just another option like Venkatesh or Shivam, but this IPL has shown he has massive potential and a solid base to develop as an all-rounder. Like Hardik, Reddy is also a better batter than a bowler in the nascent phase of his career. Even Hardik used to go for plenty with the ball at this stage.

Venkatesh Iyer, Shivam Dube, and Vijay Shankar have hardly bowled for their respective IPL franchises, showing a lack of confidence in their bowling skills. Obviously, the Impact Player rule has reduced their role, but it’s not that SRH don’t have options or have not used an additional bowler. Despite having plenty of bowlers, Pat Cummins has consistently given bowling opportunities to Nitish Reddy.

It’s because Nitish has shown the ability to adapt as a bowler by bowling hard lengths and varying lines as per the field placements. That Tristan Stubbs dismissal, where Nitish compelled him to hit straight to the fielder at the deep midwicket, shows his bowling smarts. If anything, he can bowl as per his fields in a ruthless T20 tournament.

In the five bowling innings this edition, Nitish has bowled two or more overs three times. He has conceded eight or fewer runs in two of them. In two games where he bowled only a solitary over, he gave 8 and 12 runs.

All this when Nitish hasn’t bowled with the new ball. It’s also worth noting Nitish was initially a pure batter, who never took his bowling seriously. All the growth he has made as a bowler has mostly come in the previous four years.

It confirms Nitish is a quick learner. By the looks of him, Nitish might be an even better all-rounder in the 50-over format. A middle-order batter with new-ball value is always an exciting prospect.

Nitish, 20, also has age on his side. He has a nice run-up and smooth action. And with some work, his pace can also surge to an extent, making him more lethal. Needless to say, he will only improve from here on.

Ideally, India should stop looking for another Hardik Pandya. It’s impossible to find one. They better invest in players with even half capabilities, and Nitish Kumar Reddy is certainly close enough, even if not fully baked yet.

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