Sihi village, which finds a mention in the Mahabharata and is the birthplace of poet Surdas, has another reason to be proud.
“You guys couldn’t wait for 18 balls, we waited for 18 years to see this day. We knew he wouldn’t throw his wicket away. He had to succeed. Else, he would have to sit out the next 12 games. I knew he won’t quit,” Rahul Tewatia’s uncle Dharambir turns philosophical in the morning after the night of his nephew’s life.
Not just the former cricketers on air and fans, but even his on-field partner Sanju Samson had turned down a single. Euthanasia through hit wicket or a wild charge was recommended. A smell of embarrassment swirled in the air but in a Sharjah minute, everything changed for Tewatia. Rather, he enforced it by slamming Sheldon Cottrell for five sixes in an over. A redemption story that only sport can offer in sixty seconds. Quite a ridiculous night, really.
“Pandavas, Surdas, and now Rahul; that’s what our village Sihi is known for,” Rahul’s father Krishna Pal says. Sihi is a small village in Faridabad district in Haryana, where metro trains reach these days at the station named Sant Surdas Sihi.
His father wasn’t exaggerating much. Surdas, the blind poet who was one of the most influential figures of the Bhakti Movement, came from this village in the 16th century. In the epic Mahabharata, Pandavas had asked for five villages from Kauravas to avoid war. Four of them are mentioned and the fifth is left to the choice of Kauravas. In Krishna Pal’s telling, the fifth was Sihi. It’s no surprise then that in the land that revels in its myths, his son Rahul has chosen to build his own myth. “Rahul ka naam bhi jhud gaya (Rahul’s name has been added to Sihi’s history today). The whole village came to greet us. Those TV channel guys are also coming,” an elated Pal says.
Not the first choice
Cricket was never the first choice of Tewatias. Rahul’s grandfather was a farmer and a pehalwan, wrestler. His uncle had represented Haryana in hockey nationals. Krishna Pal says that hockey was the main sport in his village, and boasts quite a few players for the state.
However, Rahul was more enthusiastic about cricket. When he was nine he was picked by Haryana government for ‘Haryana Nursery’ scheme that provides a two-year scholarship and develops sportspersons.
When he was 12, his father took him to former India wicket-keeper Vijay Yadav’s academy in Faridabad. “He was a small boy, and more than him, his family was excited and wanted Rahul to prosper in the game. His father said, it’s not only his name but that of the whole village was at stake,” recalls Yadav.
Rahul soon broke into Haryana under-14 team and later, went represented the under-16, 19 and 22 sides. He was also picked for National Cricket Academy camps and life was good until the harsh reality hit.
Brake on breaks
With two world-class spinners in the Haryana state team, Rahul had to wait for the opportunity. It proved a long restless wait. Uncle Dharambir recalls the tough times. “Mann dabao mey aa jaata hai (The heart too feels the pressure in the bad times). Rahul was ready to give up cricket but the family felt he has it in him and that he should continue. Luckily, he got an IPL contract,” his uncle, a sports teacher at a government school, says.
He gets back to last night’s drama. He says he was sure when the commentators were going after his nephew that the tide will change, that Rahul will hit back with his bat. “Newtons’ law says na that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Pratikriya toh hogi hi, na. I knew Rahul’s reaction would come soon.”
“All his life he has done this, gone and scored runs in the last five overs. The situation is not new to him, he has been successful most of the time. This time, too, he had to return to the pavilion only after he succeeded. Else, he would have to sit out on the bench for the next 12 games. Rahul is not the type who will succumb to pressure,” Dharambir says.
Yadav, the coach and former India player, had other reasons to be confident. Before the Sharjah night, the world might have seen Tewatia as a bowling allrounder but the coach knew it was batting that made him a player to watch out for.
“I told him a long time ago that it’s his batting that will take him to places,” Yadav says. “His bat speed and back-lift are as smooth as Brian Lara’s I would say. That bat-speed helps him to send the ball faster than most.”
Not just the batting, Yadav is also a fan of Rahul’s mental tenacity. “He can handle pressure much better than others. I remember a game he played for Income Tax team despite a fractured leg. He hit a hundred in 60-odd balls. More than the tally of runs, it was his temperament that stood out for me. He kept aside his pain and played,” he recalls.
At 27, the Tewatias knew that time was running out for Rahul. He needed a special performance to make his name. Yadav too was banking on IPL. Dharambir recalls his conversation with Rahul on August 17, the day he landed in Mumbai to fly to Dubai. “It’s your peak hour, the day you get a chance you will have to do it. Iska aage koi gunjayish nahi hai (there is no real chance after this). Luckily, he did well in two games,” he says.
The uncle also puts Rahul’s change in fortunes in perspective. “My son was saying that till yesterday Rahul had 22,000 followers on Instagram. Now, it’s jumped to 75,000. Until yesterday, everyone was asking who is Rahul Tewatia, kaun hai yeh, and now the whole world knows him. That’s what has changed.” And changed in an over.
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