Rahul Tewatia belted five sixes off Sheldon Cottrell’s final over.(IPL/Twitter)
Rahul Tewatia belted five sixes off Sheldon Cottrell’s final over.(IPL/Twitter)

IPL 2020: For Rahul Tewatia, the Rajasthan Royals are a supportive family

IPL 2020: In this column for Hindustan Times, former India cricketer Snehal Pradhan looks back at the journey for Rahul Tewatia, who became a sensation following his knock for Rajasthan Royals against Kings XI Punjab.
Hindustan Times, New Delhi | By Snehal Pradhan
UPDATED ON SEP 30, 2020 09:37 AM IST

Brendon McCullum, Shane Watson, and Rahul Tewatia.

You probably never expected to see the third name in the company of the first two, but if you think back to some of the most impactful but unforeseeable IPL innings, based on how they began, Tewatia deserves his spot.

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McCullum’s 158 off 73 balls, in the IPL’s debut way back in 2008, was unexpected partly because no one knew what to expect, and partly because he was on zero after his first six balls. Watson’s start in the 2018 final was so slow he needed 10 balls just to get off the mark. He finished on 117* from 57 balls, and an eventual strike rate of 205.

Also Read | ‘That was the worst first 20 balls that I have ever played’ - Rajasthan Royals hero Rahul Tewatia on slow start

But then Watson and McCullum were legends before Tewatia had scored his first run in T20 cricket. Tewatia is a journeyman - he had been shunted between franchises for six years; good enough to be in the mix, but never good enough to be in the news. Suddenly he is the feel good story of 2020.

Also Read | Rahul Tewatia, Sanju Samson star as Rajasthan Royals register highest-successful chase in history

Others have written fine pieces on his journey, and the innings that unfolded that night. I am interested in the reactions of those around him, and what that says about a team.

He was sent in at No. 4, with Royals needing more than 11 an over, to target the leg spinner, as the only left hander in the Royals squad. He attempted percentage shots: reverse sweeps against off spin, hits over the off side against googlies, but connected precious few. From our limited view on TV, the dugout looked concerned, anxious, even dejected, but not angry. They had seen the talent in the nets. They wanted him to do well, and they knew he was trying. At the other end, Sanju Samson almost lost his wicket in frustration, but not his cool. Samson denied him the strike, even asked Tewatia to run down the pitch and swing, but those were cricketing calculations. There was no obvious derision at a teammate with lesser gifts.

Maybe Tewatia’s incredible turnaround came because by then, he had nothing to lose. His chance to be a hero had led him to rock bottom, batting on 17 off 23 with the required run rate at 17 and a well-set Samson out.

Perhaps this is where athletes do their best - when they don’t care about winning and losing any more. Another thing that brings out the best in athletes is the confidence that they will be treated fairly and humanely by their team.

Rajasthan Royals have built a reputation for being a side that picks, encourages, and nurtures talent. Think Shreyas Gopal. Think Riyan Parag. They have the youngest average age in the IPL. So perhaps Tewatia prospered because this is what Rajasthan Royals do.

Or perhaps this is conjecture, and it’s simply a case of necessity meeting opportunity: In the documentary Royals released leading up to the season, team director Zubin Barucha said, “We need a quality spinner, possibly look at a left-hand option.” They have no left-handers in their top order. Last year their second spinner was Riyan Parag. Tewatia was a bet they needed to take.

The truth is probably somewhere in between. I’ve heard good things about the Royals team environment, from speaking to the wives of some of the players and staff. They talk a lot about ‘family’. But words are worth only so much, hearsay even less so. I believe if you want to judge a family, look at how they treat their women. Royals are one of the few IPL teams to invest in women’s cricket. Their documentary also outlines how they set up talent development pathways for both boys and girls. Realizing that girls don’t get to play as many matches, they invested in running an inter-school competition in Jaipur. Hall of Famer Lisa Sthalekar was brought in to help guide their programs. Among their staff is Anuja Dalvi, the first female physio in the IPL, who also heads their COVID-19 taskforce. And they are the first IPL franchise to sport a logo of a sanitary napkin brand on their shirt.

Imagine the torturous first half of Tewatia’s innings being played out on any other cricket ground in the country. From gully cricket, state cricket, to inter-state T20 cricket. Even in the confines of your mind, you can hear the abuse and the heckling the batter in question would be subjected to, from his own teammates. The pyramid of professionalism trims idiocy, but doesn’t eliminate it completely. It was heartening to see nothing of the sort from Tewatia’s own team, as the frustrating half of his innings unfolded.

Tewatia’s success is good for the Royals, and shows that he could answer some of their team combination questions. But the Royals’ success with Tewatia might be the more valuable outcome.

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