27th September 2020 is a day Rahul Tewatia will never be able to let go of even until his last breath. They say that a moment lasts forever, embedded in the space-time continuum of all things, all energy, and all moments. If that is, in fact, the case, the nine overs that Tewatia spent in the middle with the bat in Sharjah, facing the heat from just about every person on the planet, notwithstanding his own batting partner, could go on to define the rest of his life and his romance with cricket.
Walking in to bat in the ninth over, Rahul Tewatia was witness to his future captain Sanju Samson muscling every ball out of the park in a grandiose manner. Wanting to take on a similar role himself and help Sanju out, Tewatia tried hustling, swinging, and lashing but just couldn’t connect with the ball. He could neither hit nor get out. Like a mosquito caught in a spider-web dreading every second, he was stuck.
You don’t need me to tell you that 8 from 19 when the asking rate’s well above 12 and ticking like a time bomb with every other ball is a disaster in the cricket of today’s day and age.
And so, the fury and ridicule began. Channeled through the memes and banter of the collective cesspit known as social media, through the jest and derision of a ‘neutral and professional’ comm box, through the frustration and silence in the Rajasthan Royals dugout, and through the defiance of Sanju Samson, refusing to take a single and giving Tewatia the strike.
Rahul Tewatia was on 14 off 21 when he ended up becoming a villain, THE VILLAIN if you’re a Punjab Kings fan. Sanju Samson walking back to the pavilion after being caught behind by KL Rahul off a Mohammad Shami delivery was the last straw and the fans were turning their TV sets off. The last hope was gone. They had had enough.
Every story follows or ideally should follow, a basic three-act structure: Setup, Confrontation, Resolution. While there are narratives that tend to subvert this very rule in order to achieve a unique shock value from its target audience, but on a general scale, the three-act structure is followed as gospel.
On many occasions, it is the confrontation that ends up making or breaking a story. During this stage, the protagonist faces tremendous adversity and that is the exact point when the audience connects with the character, be it in terms of empathy or rage or disbelief or disgust.
When Tewatia was left stranded in that limbo of darkness with no place to run to and everybody to hide from, you felt for him. Be it empathy, rage, disbelief, or disgust. It managed to break the fourth wall and had gotten an instinctive reaction out of you. You could no longer stay indifferent.
Tewatia could’ve given up ages ago. He could’ve swallowed the pill of ‘it not being his day’ and left a ball to hit the stumps, deliberately run slower in order to walk back to the pavilion, or smashed his own bloody wicket to escape the guillotine. But he didn’t.
He hung in there, he hung in there, he hung in there.
The greatest stories told in sports also follow the three-act structure. Terrific confrontation and adversity alone aren’t enough, the payoff needs to be just as good or the climax will land flat.
The phoenix needs to rise from the ashes. And so did Rahul Tewatia, almost half a year ago.
When Sheldon Cottrell came in to bowl the 18th over, Rahul Tewatia was on 17 from 23. Rajasthan Royals required 51 from 18, an equation that the biggest optimists would tell you was beyond their reach. There would be no saving grace, this was a curtain call.
The 27-year-old from Faridabad, however, wasn’t done. He was about to tell one of the greatest sporting stories in recent history. The redemption act awaited.
Just before Cottrell released his first delivery, Tewatia shuffled around the crease. Cottrell followed him and pulled out a bouncer. Tewatia swung his bat, this time managing to get inside the line, and pulled him over long leg. SIX. The six seemed inconsequential but he could take the noose off his neck and breathe now.
The second delivery was also short of length and took ages to come on to the bat. Tewatia waited and waited and then swung his blade, making sure the ball cleared the short square boundary. Two in two.
The third delivery was pitched higher up, so close to the bat that the ball could smell death. Rahul Tewatia managed to clear the long-on boundary with ease, sending the ball to the roof of Sharjah. The man who struggled to get his bat on to a ball a short while back had hit three sixes in a row. Tewatia was inside Cottrell’s head now.
When the fourth delivery of the over was also put away for a six, jaws dropped, phones rang, TVs were turned on and Twitter was on fire. The game was well and truly back on and everybody started talking. Sensing Cottrell would shift his line and length, Tewatia shuffled across the crease, got underneath the lower full toss, brought his guns to the party, and swept it over midwicket for yet another six.
Sheldon Cottrell’s face fell to his palm, Robin Uthappa shouted joy, Sanju Samson looked animated clapping his hands in the dugout, the comm box was heard calling Tewatia a legend and captain KL Rahul jogged from behind the wicket to comfort his bowler. This was the moment, this was his moment, he had earned it.
For the fifth delivery of the over, the West Indies bowler decided to trade pace and power for precision. The slower length ball did the trick. Tewatia tried going across the lines but was beaten by the change in pace. A dot ball. The onus had swung back to Cottrell but he still had a ball to deliver and anything, everything could go wrong once again.
The final delivery arrived. Sheldon Cottrell bowled a wide length ball over midwicket and the magnificent Rahul Tewatia smacked it out of the ground once again. Like Andy Dufresne crawling through 500 yards of sewers to find his freedom in The Shawshank Redemption, Rahul Tewatia found his salvation on the same 22 yards that tormented him six deliveries ago.
Five sixes in six balls turned an impossible chase on its heels. It got the asking rate down to just around 10 runs an over and got Yuvraj Singh tweeting, asking Rahul Tewatia to calm down and not touch his legendary accomplishment. It got neutrals supporting Rajasthan Royals, heck, even some of the opposition fans. It turned skeptics into romantics. And we all know how the rest of the story went.
This struggle to find moments of catharsis is all we live for. There’s struggle embedded in every tiny corner of all our lives. Characters cannot be judged while they are busy celebrating victories, characters are built when their backs are against the wall. The greater the setback, the more severe the failure, the bigger the payoff, the more substantial the legend.
Maybe that is why we tend to glorify and romanticize the struggle on the grandest stages when the payoff is so exquisite. Each and every one of us can identify ourselves and our lives in those moments of struggle that our heroes go through. That is exactly why when the lows of desperation inevitably become the joys of exhilaration, it becomes a personal victory.
On most other grounds that had boundaries with bigger dimensions, many of those hits wouldn’t have landed as sixes but would’ve found the hands of a deep fielder and the fairytale redemption act would’ve never even taken place. Not every struggle pays off in the manner it torments. But this was no time to discuss the what-ifs, this was time for celebration. The underdog had risen.
Make no mistake, Rahul Tewatia’s innings against Kings XI Punjab on a humid September night in Sharjah wasn’t just a mere breakthrough point in his career or an impossible win for his side, it was a victory for us. All of us, who were lucky enough to watch the action unfold in its myriad emotional stages and get involved in the minutest ways we could. But more than anything, it was a victory for cricket.
We are all Rahul Tewatias waiting for our moment in the sun, long live the fairytale comeback trope.
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