Rahul Tewatia of Rajasthan Royals plays a shot against King XI Punjab in IPL 2020 at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium in the UAE on September 27, 2020 Image Credit: @IPL

Rahul Tewatia’s a hero. An unlikely hero. The kind of hero that only T20 cricket can produce. The Indian Premier League has spawned many heroes over the past 12 seasons. But none like Tewatia. His five sixes in an over, the 18th, turned a looming defeat into a victory for the Rajasthan Royals. A record-breaking victory too, since it came while chasing down the highest total in IPL, set by Kings XI Punjab. An unlikely victory carved out by an unlikely hero.

Why’s Tewatia an unlikely hero? For a start, he’s never been a permanent member of any IPL franchise. He’s been traded multiple times and struggled to hold a place in playing XIs. Tewatia’s heroics came with the bat. Not bad for a right-arm leg-spinner, who bats a bit left-handed.

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Heroics are always forged in the face of adversity. That’s what sport is all about. It’s about surmounting adversities. A victory in sport is a result of overcoming the odds, big or small.

The Haryana lad faced multiple adversities. Send up the order as a pinch-hitter to build on the furious partnership between Royals’ skipper Steve Smith and Sanju Samson, Tewatia struggled to put bat to ball. He was unable to get the ball out of the square. He was sent in to target the Punjab leggies, but Ravi Bishnoi tied him in knots.

Ignominy followed. When Samson effortlessly lifted Glen Maxwell for sixes, Tewatia struggled against the same bowler. At one point, Samson even refused a single. Tewatia’s tortured stay at the wicket also risked Samson throwing his wicket away in a frustrated attempt to raise the run rate.

But Tewatia showed he was a fighter. He refused to surrender. He refused to sacrifice his wicket in the interests of his team. He believed himself. He knew he could pull it off. All he needed was one good hit, Tewatia said later, adding that the first 20 balls were the worst he faced in his career.

Why leg-spinner Murugan Ashwin never came on bowl against Tewatia, after Bishnoi’s success, will be one of the mysteries of the match. Punjab skipper KL Rahul instead chose to bring on Sheldon Cottrell. Why not? It’s the 18th over, and Cottrell is a West Indian left-arm speedster of repute.

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Call it destiny. Cottrell had to bowl at a time when Tewatia’s confidence had improved with a straight six. He would have taken heart from the timing; the sweet sound of the ball hitting the middle of the bat.

The first two balls were swung over square leg, the third went straight and over, and the fourth again over square leg. A dot ball later, Tewatia deposited the last ball over midwicket. Five sixes. Why Cottrell would bowl short of a length in the death overs is another mystery. Even the pitched-up deliveries sailed over the fence. Maybe, he was destined to be the supporting cast in the theatre of Tewatia.

From there, the Royals couldn’t lose. The momentum had shifted inexorably. That was evident when Jofra Archer stormed in to blast sixes off the first two balls he faced.

All this drama wouldn’t have happened if it was not for a rollicking second-wicket stand of 81 runs between Smith (50 in 27 balls) and Samson (85 in 42 balls). That was crucial in chasing Punjab’s 223, fashioned by Mayank Agarwal’s brilliant maiden IPL century (107 in 51 balls) and his mammoth 183-run partnership with Rahul (69 off 54 balls).

Samson’s presence was required to secure a win, and his departure took the wind out of the Royals’ sails.

Cometh the hour, cometh the man. Tewatia was Royals’ man of the hour.