For the first few editions of the IPL, Nitish Rana would turn up at Kotla to watch cricket as much as to see Akshay Kumar, a famous Bollywood actor, cheer-leading for the Delhi franchise. He “never thought” he’d play the IPL until it all changed for him before IPL 2016, when he turned up for Mumbai Indians and hasn’t looked back ever since.

“My 2015 Ranji season was really good, so I had a bit of hope for the IPL auctions. During the IPL auction actually, I was batting” Rana tells Cricbuzz. “When I called for drinks, I was told that I’ve been picked by Mumbai Indians. I couldn’t – in fact, didn’t – believe it. Perhaps my friend was taking a joke too far. And then, when he insisted, I knew he wasn’t kidding…”

As for so many young cricketers, things for him changed after Sachin Tendulkar intervened. “My friend overheard a conversation between Sachin Tendulkar and the Mumbai Indians manager Rahul Sanghvi, and told me that I had caught Sachin sir’s notice. He asked ‘Who’s this boy?’. He had clearly taken notice of me. That felt really good,” Rana reveals.

And then, came the watershed moment. A do-or-die match for the Mumbai Indians, and this time, he was taken aside by none other than Ricky Ponting and got himself the mother-of-all morale boosts: “Just don’t defend. You have the ability to hit the ball. Just hit the ball. Hard.”

Rana went on to score a 36-ball 70 against a seasoned Gujarat Lions bowling attack. Mumbai still went on to lose the match but had found themselves an exciting young talent in Nitish Rana.

“That game changed everything for me. Since then, I’ve never had doubted myself and whether or not I belong at this level.”