To fit in Haryana side, Tewatia became a six-hitter

To fit in Haryana side, Tewatia became a six-hitter

Rajasthan Royals batsman Rahul Tewatia plays a shot during the Indian Premier League 2020 cricket match against Kings XI Punjab, at Sharjah Cricket Stadium, Sharjah, Sunday, Sept. 27, 2020. (PTI Photo)

"We have all been exposed here," said Kevin Petersen following Rahul Tewatia's stunning assault on Sheldon Cottrell. Till then the southpaw looked woefully out of place after he was sent in as a pinch-hitter in a mammoth chase of 224.

Commentators, without any exception, questioned Rajasthan Royals' decision to promote the little-known Tewatia ahead of a proven Robin Uthappa. You could hardly disagree with them as Tewatia had managed no more than eight runs in his first 19 balls, surrendering Royals' momentum. Their supporters couldn’t fathom the fact that the fantastic efforts from skipper Steve Smith (50, 27b) and Sanju Samson (85, 42b) were going down the drain.

Tewatia looked so helpless that people sympathised with him and wished an early end to his torturous stay. But then, the game is a great leveller. Tewatia went on to smack half a dozen sixes after that, helping Royals pull off the highest run chase in IPL. 

Just like the outcome of the game, Tewatia's fortunes too had changed in the space of an over. While the Haryana all-rounder's blitzkrieg came as a surprise for most, his State-mates always believed in his abilities.  

“He has always been someone who can hit sixes at will,” Haryana opener Chaitanya Bishnoi told DH. "In the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy T20 tournament, we would send him in the final five overs and his job was to attack. There have been instances where he has hit three sixes in an over, that too against fast bowlers,” said the former Chennai Super Kings' batsman.

Tewatia made his first-class debut in 2013. Seven years after that, he has played just seven games. For the longest time, Tewatia, who began as a leg-spinner, remained in the shadow of the spin trio of Yuzvendra Chahal, Amit Mishra, and Jayant Yadav which has represented India.

To stay relevant in the Haryana set-up, he put in more hours in his batting. “He knew that if he had to make his way into the team, he had to do something extra. So in the limited-overs format, he expanded his six-hitting abilities. Earlier, he was a bowling-all-rounder, but he has improved his batting so much that he is consistently scoring for Haryana,” pointed out Bishnoi.

And it reflects in his strike rate of 154.93 in 50 games. He has been one of the catalysts in Haryana’s improvement in the shortest format. Last season, Haryana reached the semifinal of Mushtaq Ali Trophy. Tewatia dazzled but his 20-ball 32 went in vain as eventual champions Karnataka chased down the target of 194 with five overs to spare.

“He is from Faridabad and plays a lot of cricket in Delhi, which is the hub for T20 cricket,” said Haryana senior team coach Jitender Siwach. “He is a highly useful player in this format because not only can he bat and bowl but he is also an excellent fielder,” he added.

Domestic exploits go unnoticed if players don’t replicate them at the highest level. Tewatia had earlier plied his trade with Delhi Daredevils and Kings XI Punjab with little success. As much as players relish the attention in IPL, they know that one bad performance can become fodder for endless trolls in social media.

“When you struggle in IPL, so much negativity creeps in. Players wonder if the franchise’s trust in them was worth it. So to succeed after struggling for close to three overs was fantastic,” said Bishnoi.