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Thursday, October 22, 2020

Fall guy to match-winner: Tewatia turns Superman to script record win for Royals as ton-up Agarwal ends on losing side

Kings XI Punjab, powered by Mayank Agarwal’s hundred, posted a total that had never been surpassed in this league, but Rajasthan Royals pulled off a nerve-splaying heist, adding a fresh tale to the Sharjah folklore.

Written by Sandip G | Updated: September 28, 2020 7:57:46 am
iplRahul Tewatia was Rajasthan Royals' unlikely hero in their heist against Kings XI Punjab on Sunday. (Twitter/RajasthanRoyals)

For years to come, this match could remain a benchmark for not only high-quality T20 batsmanship but also a jaw-dropping marker of the game’s blistering evolution, it’s continuously expanding boundaries of imagination. Kings XI Punjab, powered by Mayank Agarwal’s hundred, posted a total that had never been surpassed in this league, but Rajasthan Royals pulled off a nerve-splaying heist, adding a fresh tale to the Sharjah folklore.

Unlikely hero

From being the potential fall guy, Rahul Tewatia emerged an unlikely hero, scoring a 31-ball 53. But for much of his knock, he seemed a nervous wreck frazzled by the enormity of the situation and the steepness of the unenviable task he was deputed with. Despatched as the surprise pinch-hitter at the fall of Steve Smith, the left-hander crawled to 17 off 23 balls, and in the process piled on pressure that probably resulted in the dismissal of Sanju Samson, who seemed the Royals only avenue to victory. Tewatia was swiping and swishing at thin air, his promotion seeming a strategic faux pas.

So inept was Tewatia that Samson turned down a single at one point. But when he got out, Rajasthan Royals required just two off seven balls.

One Sheldon Cottrell over changed it all, the script of the match, potentially the destiny of this edition and even the Tewatia’s career. With Samson gone for a sumptuous 85 in the previous over, Rajasthan Royals required 63 off 23 balls, and when the Cottrell over began, they needed 51 off 18. The lens zoomed in on Robin Uthappa, engineer of several heists in the past. Tewatia would have been shirking from the lens.

Then, without the slightest warning, he broke free. The man who is in the team more for his leg-spin bowling creamed the first two deliveries — short balls but at pace — over mid-wicket with crisp swings of the blade. The third ball, an angry Cottrell overreached with a full ball; Tewatia smoked it over wide long-off. The contest suddenly swung back to life, architected by the most unusual of suspects.

But Tewatia was not finished, he was not a flicker of hope, but an all-consuming fire. He wanted to settle the match, which he ensured with two more sixes in the same over. The 30-run over whittled down the target to an achievable 21 off 12. He struck another six off Mohammed Shami in the next over before perishing, but not before firing Rajasthan to the brink of a famous heist that seemed improbable as soon as Samson perished.

At one stage, Tewatia was 14 off 23 balls, a crime in this format and by his own admission the worst 20 balls he had ever faced in his life, but his final exploit read 53 off 31 balls. That meant his last 39 runs came off eight balls.

Among the happiest in the Rajasthan dug-out was Samson, whose knock of utter beauty was flirting with futility. In the heady climax, his knock should not be forgotten.

These days, there is unalloyed joy in Samson’s batting. He exudes a sense of serenity that seems to stem from the knowledge that he’s in the best form of his life, that he’s near infallible, that his undisputed but once erratic talent is fully blossoming. It is about considering all the factors and calculations that allow a batsman to score quickly — the speed of the bowlers, the speed of the pitch, the amount of spin, the degree of seam movement, the precise slotting of all the fielders, the hittable gaps, the dimensions of the ground, the wind and heat, the match situation, what constitutes a good score — from the second one arrives at the crease. Samson, right now, is doing this perhaps better than anyone has in this edition. It’s like he walks in, assesses the situation and does exactly what is required. In the past, he shied away from burdens. But these days, he volunteers for them. It’s this eagerness and willingness that’s primarily behind his rejuvenation. But if Samson’s effort was salvaged by Tewatia, Mayank Agarwal would be left cussing his wretched luck.

Fallen hero

Agarwal had, only a few days ago, seen his then highest IPL score go waste in a Super Over. This time, he racked up his maiden IPL hundred, yet ended up on the losing side again.

Nonetheless, after the pain of the defeat sinks in, the innings should cheer him up. Agarwal flowed like a furious river, drowning everything in his sight and taking everything in his way down with him. The bulk of his runs came in a fat V between extra cover and cow corner. Brutal on anything marginally short — his bat-speed is Bolt-like when he rocks back for the pull — he hammered anything that was remotely full or marginally hung in the air. Every stroke was fused with so much power that even mishits sped over the ropes.

Poor Shreyas Gopal, Agarwal’s close pal and Karnataka team-mate. He bore the full brunt of his fury. Three times he was smeared over the rope. On two occasions, he seemed to have deceived the batsman in the air, but on both instances, Agarwal made late adjustments to ensure that he guided the ball where no fielder lurked. The compact, Chinnaswamy-like dimensions did benefit him, but some of his strikes, especially down the ground, were so ferocious that they would have cleared most boundary ropes.

Under Agarwal’s breathless stroke-play, that began with a lofted-driven six off Ankit Rajpoot in the second over, KL Rahul’s sedate 69 off 54 deliveries turned out to be an afterthought. Nonetheless, it was another fine exhibition of orthodox shot-making. The three successive boundaries he stroked in Jofra Archer’s first over were glorious. The first was a proper cover drive off a slower ball; the second ball was faster, and he opened the bat face and drove squarer to the cover boundary. The third one was wider, which he bunted over point. Together, Rahul and Agarwal put on 183 runs, the eighth-highest partnership for any wicket in the league, leaving bowlers as exasperated as they were devastated.

Tewatia, the effervescent leggie, would offer further testament — Rajasthan’s bowling hero of the previous match got just an over as Agarwal plundered 19 runs off it. Nobody would have imagined then that Tewatia would have the last laugh. T20 is a fickle little game, as Tewatia can vouch.

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