Nitish Reddy: 'I love to be a match-winner, so I don't have any choice but to work hard'

Nitish Kumar Reddy mixed the orthodox with the unorthodox in an unbeaten 76 off 42 BCCI

Nitish Kumar Reddy wasn't expecting to be retained by Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) before the last IPL auction. Can't blame him - he featured in just two games in IPL 2023 in which he didn't get to bat and leaked 54 runs in five wicketless overs.

"Even I thought no one is going to pick me and suddenly SRH retained me," Reddy says in a chat with ESPNcricinfo on the sidelines of IPL 2024. "I was like, 'I have to work a little more'."

While some of the top allrounders earned massive deals in the IPL 2023 auction, Reddy, hardly a big force in the IPL circuit, was signed for his base price of INR 20 lakh, picked primarily as a bowler who can bat a bit.

He displayed his bowling prowess earlier this year for Andhra in a Ranji Trophy game, when his 5 for 64 had Mumbai in trouble at one point. Reddy bowled with a fairly new ball, removed Ajinkya Rahane for a golden duck, swung the ball both ways, and later also dismissed Shreyas Iyer from around the wicket with the old ball.

The SRH think-tank would have patted themselves on the back for investing in a teenager who would become Andhra's top wicket-taker in the last Ranji season with an average of just 18.76. But that's not all there is to him as we have discovered more recently.

Reddy, who calls himself a "genuine allrounder", got his IPL opportunity of this IPL season when Mayank Agarwal was unwell, against Chennai Super Kings (CSK). In the eight balls he faced in that game, Reddy showed glimpses of his temperament, reverse-sweeping Ravindra Jadeja for four and the completing SRH's victory with a straight six off Deepak Chahar.

A much bigger test, however, awaited Reddy in the next match when the Punjab Kings (PBKS) quicks reduced SRH to 39 for 3 in five overs, the trio of Travis Head, Abhishek Sharma and Aiden Markram gone.

SRH typically want Henrich Klaasen to walk out in the second half of the innings for the big hits, and for that they needed someone to steer the ship for a few more overs. Reddy moved along to 14 off 17 balls, with Rahul Tripathi falling on the way, to rebuild for his team. It was one of those occasions when SRH's high-risk-high-reward batting approach at the top didn't work.

"I feel being an allrounder is a difficult job. At the same time, we are the match-winners. It's not easy to take the recovery part properly to maintain your body, like you have to make sure you're in a good space"

"We know it's not going to work every time. It's not like we will go hard on opponents all the time, but one bad game, one bad ball, such things happen and we have to be prepared for early wickets," Reddy says. "You can see at first we scored huge runs and after that we collapsed. So I've been thinking at the back of my mind for this situation that if the team is going to collapse, I have to be ready for that situation."

Once Reddy had set his eye in, he figured out that the fast bowlers were getting more out of the fresh pitch in Mullanpur, so it was better to go after spin. He soon laid into Harpreet Brar for a 15-run over that turned the tide of the innings. From 66 for 4 after ten, SRH went on to post 182, despite losing Klaasen for just 9, because Reddy slammed 64 off 37 - including 22 more off Brar in the 15th over. Reddy's maiden T20 fifty had come in the IPL, that too in a rescue act.

"I just love playing these kinds of innings," he says. "I don't really feel satisfied when the team scores 270 and I score 50 or 40 runs of those. But when the team really needs me, like when we are 4 for 10 or something like that, and I can go there and take the team till the end or the last over... I want to showcase that because that's what my role is."

A few games later, SRH were under the pump again. They had lost back-to-back games to Royal Challengers Bengaluru (RCB) and CSK, and then got to 37 for 2 after six overs, their poorest powerplay of IPL 2024, against Rajasthan Royals (RR), who possess one of the best bowling attacks in the competition.

With Head for company, Reddy went back to his template of building a base and then identifying a bowler to take on, no matter how high profile. Once he was on a comfortable 22 off 19, he tore into Yuzvendra Chahal to change the momentum of the innings. Two sixes over the bowler's head and two fours on the off side meant Reddy had smashed the star legspinner for 20 in an over.

He finished on 76 not out in 42 balls. Bhuvneshwar Kumar won the Player-of-the-Match award after SRH's win for his 3 for 41, but Reddy was ESPNcricinfo's MVP.

Reddy, however, rues the losses to RCB and CSK before that. In both those games, SRH were chasing 200-plus totals and were 56 for 4 and 40 for 3 respectively within the powerplay. The stage was set, but Reddy couldn't capitalise on his run-a-ball starts, and SRH slipped down the points table.

"I loved the Punjab innings but after that against CSK and RCB, I wanted to take the team till the end," Reddy says. "I was very disappointed for those two innings, and I was thinking if we have to be on top of the table, I have to take the team till the end when the team collapses. That's what my role is. So ,when I didn't do well in those two matches, I felt really bad and I feel winning those [kind of] games will be more satisfying for me; I wasn't satisfied at all.

"Coming back to this game with RR, winning like that with a crucial knock after two early wickets, that knock really boosted me."

While being the SRH crisis man, Reddy has so far scored 239 runs from seven innings while striking at 152.22 and averaging a formidable 47.80, with more sixes (17) than fours (12). The highlight has been his ability to change the course of a game with one big over, even if a big-name bowler is against him.

He has scored 23 off ten against Chahal, 21 off eight against R Ashwin, 19 off ten against Avesh Khan, and ten off five against Kuldeep Yadav. Reddy attributes this largely to match awareness and some homework.

"I just watch a couple of videos and variations of bowlers before going into the match," he says. "And, according to the field, you will get to know what ball [the bowler] is going to bowl. It's just that the starting phase of batting will be a little difficult to get boundaries or to get that opportunity to get the gaps. But once you cross 20-30, you will feel like you know what the bowler is going to do next, and you will have a good idea of what the pitch is also behaving like.

'Time to start investing in Nitish Reddy the allrounder'

He has been scoring under pressure and he bowls medium pace, a combination hard to find in India

"I would take some time in my innings and after that I accelerate. I will choose a bowler or someone who is good to strike against."

Reddy relies a lot on his base of solid technique to score in the 'V' in front and to pull the short balls, options that have helped him score a lot this IPL. He was also aware before the season that he had to raise his batting, especially against spinners, knowing that he would largely bat in the middle overs. One shot he worked a lot on was the reverse sweep, which has earned him 22 runs off just ten balls this IPL.

"Spinners mostly keep three fielders around point area [cover point, backward point, and short third] and one sweeper cover, so it's really hard [to score]," Reddy says about his reverse sweep. "You have to time the ball, otherwise you'll be out. So I just practice the reverse sweep; it's easy to score over [the three short fielders off side]."

A habit Reddy has developed over time is visualising such situations when in his hotel room, plus shadow batting, which he often does during training sessions at the ground as well. It's this hunger "to always improve" that has brought him quick success in the IPL, which he wants to build on to become a gun allrounder like his idols Hardik Pandya and Ben Stokes.

"I want to take it to the next level, there are not many people like that [proper allrounders]," he says. "Maybe in half a year I might become the allrounder [I want to be]. I guess in bowling I need to be more specific also. Like I know I'm not getting the chances, but I have to read the game. I'm not getting that experience in bowling as of now, I am just bowling one or two overs.

"It's okay, but I can learn something from T Natarajan, Bhuvneshwar, they all are doing good so I want to gain that experience through watching them and I want to practice a little more because you can see in India A and B levels there is no impact rule. There I can get my bowling chances and improve."

Reddy admits "it's really hard" being an allrounder because of the different demands and the toll it takes on the body.

"I feel being an allrounder is a difficult job," he says. "At the same time, we are the match-winners. It's not easy to take the recovery part properly to maintain your body, like you have to make sure you're in a good space. So you have to recover, look after your body or maintenance, your fitness so that's where your performance will be connecting. If you miss even one or two sessions, it will affect you on the ground, so it's really hard to be an allrounder.

"But, as I mentioned, I always love to be a match-winner, so I don't have any choice. I have to be an allrounder and I will work on my fitness and everything."

Reddy has taken the first few steps towards it.

He was named the best cricketer in the Under-16 category by the BCCI at their annual awards function in 2018. Six years on, he has become a vital cog between the hard-hitters at the top and in the lower order for SRH.

He probably shouldn't blame himself if he is not retained by SRH after IPL 2024, as that will be the big one, but if he is let go by them and picked for a much bigger amount than the INR 20 lakh he currently gets, he can claim to have earned it.