Rahul Tewatia and other Gujarat Titans players make their way on to the ground
Deepak Malik / © BCCI


Rahul Tewatia: 'In 2018, I decided I have to play like I'm the team's main player'

The Gujarat Titans allrounder breaks down some of his most memorable IPL innings

Interview by Nagraj Gollapudi  |  

Last month, when Kolkata Knight Riders' Rinku Singh hit five sixes to secure an improbable victory against defending champions Gujarat Titans, many people said he had "done a Tewatia".

They were referring to Rahul Tewatia's 2020 innings for Rajasthan Royals against Kings XI Punjab, in which he went from 8 off 19 balls to smashing five sixes to turn the game on its head, causing, among other things, his name to become a verb.

Nearly three years on, Tewatia, now playing for Titans, has grown into a very successful finisher in the IPL. In this conversation, which took place last month at the Titans' team hotel in Ahmedabad a day after he had scored a five-ball 20 to help his side get to a match-winning 207 against Mumbai Indians, a bespectacled Tewatia talks about his journey from rural Haryana, where he played cricket on the streets, to becoming one of the most dependable lower-order batters in the IPL.

At the end of the hour-long chat, conducted in Hindi, Tewatia said he had never before opened up about his cricket as much.

Can you talk about what it takes for a domestic player to reach the higher levels of the game?
The struggle and selection from age-group level is normal for any sportsperson - you can't think too deeply about it or look for sympathy. It's part of the game. For me, the competition was really tough. When I came to play Under-15s [in 2004-05 for Haryana], [Yuzvendra] Chahal and Jayant [Yadav] were already part of the team [as spinners]. I also did not bat the way I do today. Being a legspinner in that team was a big thing, but I could only play one or two games in my first season. Next season, Chahal and Jayant moved to the next level, so I got to play the whole season. I took 31 wickets in five matches and was selected to go to the National Cricket Academy to be part of their U-15 age-group talent pool.

Coming from Sihi in Haryana, I did not know anything about the NCA. Where we came from, when we watched TV, our dream used to be: "Yaar, I also want to play for India one day." But I did not know the steps needed to achieve that dream. I am not ashamed to confess that when I went to the NCA, I saw that players from other states, like Mumbai and Karnataka, were ahead of us by several years in terms of their approach to cricket. We had never seen the kind of lifestyle these guys were leading.

From U-15 days itself, they were taking care of what they ate, how they conditioned themselves in the gym. Back then I don't think I had gone to the gym even for a day. We used to believe that if you did gym work, your body would get tight, there would be less flexibility and you won't be able to play. That was the culture at the time [in Haryana].

In my first gym session at the NCA, I noticed the players around me were all looking like professionals. That was an early learning. I realised that it wasn't enough to only to practise cricketing skills. I have to also pay attention to things like my fitness.

Play 01:28

"I'd watch India play and think, I want to wear that jersey, play on those grounds"

There is a photo of Gujarat Titans' top players displayed at the Ahmedabad airport: Hardik Pandya, Rashid Khan, Shubman Gill - who were signed on by the franchise ahead of the 2022 auction - and there's you, resting a bat on your shoulder, like a sword. Are you proud of being one of the faces of an IPL franchise?
Absolutely. Every player dreams of such things. One of my friends was travelling to Ahmedabad about a month before the start of the IPL and he sent me the picture with twinkling heart emojis saying: "Dekh, bhai" [Look at this].

Obviously, I feel very happy to see my face on banners at the airport. Now when my relatives, even my wife, send me that picture when they travel to Ahmedabad, I feel very happy, thinking how all my well-wishers are genuinely happy. "Rahul has made us proud."

You have earned the respect, at times even demanded it. Would you like to talk about the incident in 2019 when you asked Delhi Capitals coach Ricky Ponting why he hadn't mentioned your catches in his dressing-room debrief after the win against Mumbai Indians that day? In the video, Axar Patel teases you for demanding credit and you say: "You have to fight for your rights."
No, no, according to me, that's an edited clip. What happened was the opposite: I have always said that during my time with DC, Ricky helped me improve my cricket a lot. Our bonding on and off the field was very strong and it still is. I am very grateful and thankful and I don't have enough words to describe the way Ricky helped me in my practice and in keeping me mentally strong, given what was happening with me at Delhi at the time.

I had taken four catches, hit one six, had remained not out and taken a wicket. Everyone was getting dressing-room awards [badges from Ponting]. There was no fun in the video, so I joked to Ricky: "Where is mine?" He said: "For you, the catches were very simple. That's why I didn't mention them." Axar then said to me: "Arre, bolke kaun maangta hai?" [Who demands credit like this?] I said: "Bhai, apne haq ke liye ladna padta hai" [You have to fight for you rights]. Everyone started laughing.

Several people started asking me why the others were laughing at me. I told them we were just pulling each other's legs and that it was all light banter between myself, Ricky and Axar.

"There is light, not darkness, in God's home - that was my credo" Ajit Solanki / © Associated Press

But the point you made about your right - you did work hard to earn it, didn't you?
Yes, I earned that through my hard work, my skills. I did not grab it from anyone by simply talking.

Once you get the coaching staff to believe in you, you give them confidence [in your skills]. And the team starts believing in you once you start proving yourself repeatedly under pressure. That [earned respect] is my right, which I should get. And God is giving you that right at the right time and right place. That is the right I'm talking about. My work is to go onto the field and show everyone I am ready for this stage.

Your IPL journey started in 2014 as a 20-year-old. You were traded twice in those six years before your famous 2020 innings. What did you tell yourself to retain the belief that you belonged on that stage?
After the way I performed in Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy in 2018, I wished I'd had this same mindset in the earlier IPL seasons. In 2014 I was picked for the first time by Rajasthan Royals - I gained the experience and was content. But in 2015, I played just one match, and in 2016, I went unsold at the auction. If I'd had the mindset I had in 2018, it might have helped me play better cricket three to four years earlier.

I told myself that mistakes help you learn and make you stronger. There is light, not darkness, in God's home - that was my credo.

In 2018 I decided I had to play like I'm the team's main player. It shouldn't be a situation of me being in and out of the team. When the team is being selected, they shouldn't be thinking whether they should pick someone other than me. My name has to be in the XI. I have to play like a main player.

When my family used to come to watch matches in those years, they didn't know whether I would play or not. If they had travelled just to see me play, imagine how hard it would be for them to head back without watching me play. That was hurting me, but it also motivated me to improve. I realised that there are a lot of people in my family, in my village, who wholeheartedly support me.

On attacking Ravi Bishnoi's legspin last season:

On attacking Ravi Bishnoi's legspin last season: "In 2020 he had bowled so well and troubled me so much. I told a Titans team-mate that day, 'Today, I'll hit him for runs.' I told myself that day I wouldn't play defensively against him" Ron Gaunt / © BCCI

How did you go about achieving that aim - of becoming the team's main player?
Practice, aur kya hai? [What else is there?] Without practice, nothing can be achieved. The IPL is a stage where a player faces pressure very early. You realise immediately that a lot of people are watching the match. Now viewership numbers are being broken, with over 2 crore [20 million] watching a game. So whatever you have been practising, you need to execute, for which you need to be mentally strong whatever the situation.

The XIs are never fixed [ahead of time] in the IPL - it is dependent on various factors, including how we do in the nets. But I decided that going forward I will play bindaas [carefree], not think too much. I started with this mindset during my time in DC [2018-19].

I was in and out of the side and my frustration was building. As they say, change is good - I was traded to Rajasthan Royals [in 2019], the team for whom I had made my IPL debut. It was like my home team.

That season I was already playing with a free mind, but I decided I will now express myself more because I didn't have auction pressure. Then in 2020, everyone knows the life-changing moment I experienced.

Have you watched that innings again?
Yes, just three days ago, on the flight from Lucknow! I like watching videos of my performances from the past. Not only of the sixes, but also of me getting out. I have a laugh, thinking how could I hit such a ball, or why was I in two minds instead of going for the shot.

So, yes, I do watch the five sixes video. I started watching it because someone sent me an edited clip of images [from the innings] that had been stitched together with the soundtrack of the song by Divine, "Edit Karke Image Tune Mera Meme Bana Diya". It also had the first 17-18 deliveries, where I got four to five runs. I was like, this [song] fits perfectly with the innings I played.

Play 01:17

"We can do anything in cricket. I realised it's very important to understand your abilities"

Is there a moment from the five sixes you enjoy thinking about?
I have no idea what was going on in my head at that time. I now wonder how I missed the sixth six - maybe I was in two minds about what shot to play and didn't give my 100%.

After winning the IPL with Gujarat Titans last year, you said your captain, Hardik Pandya, gives you the freedom to bat the way you like because you understand situations. When did you gain that confidence - was it after the Punjab chase?
Hundred per cent. After that match my confidence level shot up unbelievably. We chased about 51 runs in three overs. I realised it is very important to understand your abilities, and unless something like that [innings] happens at least once, you don't understand your abilities. I realised we can do anything in cricket. Once a miracle like that happens, you start believing in yourself more.

I played another innings like that in the same season, against Sunrisers Hyderabad in Dubai. Was that my first Man-of-the-Match award? [Tewatia won his first IPL Player-of-the-Match award in that game for his unbeaten 45 off 28 balls that took Royals to a five-wicket win].

Royals needed 54 runs in final four overs and you were batting with Riyan Parag.
Rashid bhai [Rashid Khan] bowled one of those overs. Both Riyan and I were doubtful about whether we could take chances against him, but if we were to play out his over safely, the asking rate could get really dicey. I told Riyan to take a single and let me take the risks in this over. I did not think about getting out or letting any doubts creep in. I just thought I'll go for the hits and we took 14-15 runs, including three fours.

"In the 16th over of a chase, there are many things going on in the brain. 'Which bowler should I target?' When there are only four balls, you don't have an option. You just want to give your best in those four balls" Pankaj Nangia / © BCCI

You switched your grip to hit Rashid for two fours.
I decided we had to target him. It was a two-paced wicket and they had two death specialists, T Natarajan and Sandeep Sharma. I thought my match-up with Natarajan was good, so I decided to take him on [in the 19th over]. I hit him for a six and a four and the game opened up quickly for us. I think I hit Sandy for a six and then Riyan hit him for a six and a four [two fours]. At one point we were nowhere in the game, with our five top batters already gone and Jofra [Archer] to follow us.

Last season, in Titans' maiden IPL match, against fellow newcomers Lucknow Super Giants, you were facing legspinner Ravi Bishnoi for the first time since 2020. In that 2020 game, you scored seven off eight balls from him in Sharjah. In this Titans game, you scored 16 off eight balls from Bishnoi. Can you talk about the difference in your batting in those two years?
[In Sharjah in 2020] I tried to hit Bishnoi everywhere: long-off, over cover, reverse sweep, but nothing connected. Never had such a thing happened [to me before]. Usually you hit or you get out. Probably God was making me wait - if I couldn't hit early on, then he will help me finish everything at one go. [Tewatia finished with a 31-ball 53 in a four-wicket win for Royals in that Sharjah game against Punjab.]

Against LSG last year, we were 78 for 4. I had come in to bat in the 12th over. Everyone knows the Wankhede pitch is good for batting. My thinking was that I had a bit of time so I could wait for two or three overs. If a ball came in my zone, I would definitely hit it, but I wouldn't force myself to take the risk. Also, it was the season's first game for us - if you finish the first game on a high, that confidence can come in handy later on.

At the strategic timeout, Hardik told me: "Bindaas khelke aao apna. Mujhe pata hai tum match khatam kar doge. Shots khelo apne" [Play with freedom like you do. I know you'll finish the game. Play your shots].

My conversation with [batting partner David] Miller was mostly about the fact that we can take our time. Then Deepak Hooda came on for an over [16th]. There was some dew and I knew the ball would skid, so I told David that their main bowlers would bowl after Hooda, which means we have our chance now, so let's both target Hooda. David said he was ready. My first ball I hit for a six, then a four, then a single. David followed that with a six and a four and the momentum was now in our favour.

Fight for your rights: since the start of the 2020 IPL, Tewatia has scored 420 runs in the death overs at a strike rate of 182.6

Fight for your rights: since the start of the 2020 IPL, Tewatia has scored 420 runs in the death overs at a strike rate of 182.6 © BCCI

Bishnoi had an over left. Somewhere at the back of my mind I thought of how in 2020 he had bowled so well and troubled me so much. I told a Titans team-mate that day, "Aaj main maroonga isko" [Today, I'll hit him for runs].

The ball was coming nicely onto the bat, so first I reverse-swept him for a six. The leg-side boundary was long, and he was bowling at my legs. I knew if he bowled there, I had the option to open myself and hit over fine leg. I hit a boundary past fine leg. He pitched on the same line and length again and I repeated the shot to get another four. Then I felt I had settled the score a bit with Ravi. He is a young guy and he's mast [good].

Were you playing the bowler or ball? I ask because I wonder if your ego came into play.
It was not my ego. It's not like because I said I'm going to hit the bowler, I'm going to swing blindly. If he doesn't give me a ball to hit at all and I still try to hit it and I get out, then that is a case of ego. It was just that I told myself that day I wouldn't play defensively against him.

There is a lovely picture on the wall of fame here of you standing tall, both fists raised, like a boxer (see above). It was taken after your successful finish against Royal Challengers Bangalore last year. Remember that innings?
That innings was special, more so because the top order had fallen early [Titans were 95 for 4 in the 13th over, chasing 171, when Tewatia walked in]. But whatever Miller and I planned, the game flowed that way. RCB had a good bowling attack: Mohammed Siraj, Josh Hazlewood, Harshal Patel and Wanindu Hasaranga.

David and I were pumped up and we were really enjoying batting. It was an overwhelming feeling after we finished the game. Whatever we were thinking, whatever we were planning, we kept repeating. We were happy because the team was getting two points. As for the pose, the Hanuman ji inside of me came out in the open.

Tewatia in Mumbai with his wife:

Tewatia in Mumbai with his wife: "There were times my family would switch on the TV and wouldn't see my name in the XI. After four to five matches in 2020, I told them, you don't need to be sad. You will not need to switch off the TV anymore" Samuel Rajkumar / © BCCI

Last month Titans needed seven off the final over against Punjab Kings. Sam Curran nearly defended it after dismissing Shubman Gill off the second ball. When you walked in, Titans needed six off the last four. You scooped the fifth ball for a boundary, taking charge when the pressure was high. Can you talk about your mindset when you walked in to bat?
Sitting in the dressing room, the way Shubman was batting, we felt the match would finish with a couple of overs in hand. But when Shubman walked past me after he got out, he told me the ball was reversing.

I knew Curran would bowl the yorker on my feet because he had placed fielders at long-on, deep midwicket and deep square leg. The first ball swung in big. Initially I thought it was a full toss, but at the last minute it dipped and swerved into me. I took a single.

Then he bowled an amazing yorker to Miller. I ran blindly, telling myself to just run, whatever happens. Another single. Four needed off the last two balls. The boundary on the leg side was very long. In fact, Shubman and I were discussing that before the toss. He told me: "Rahul bhai, us side toh chhakka maarna sochna bhi paap hai" [Rahul bhai, even thinking of hitting a six that side is out of the question]. I told him: "See, you will play the new ball. If I'm left with no other option, I will need to hit it, but I am not thinking about it."

I am not powerful enough to clear the boundary at any ground, so I had to think of something cheeky. Curran had bowled three good yorkers, so I thought he'll bowl one again. I noticed that fine leg was standing inside.

When the bowler started his run-up, the noise in the stadium was like the public was standing next to me and screaming in my ears. But my shot was pre-planned. I sat deep in the crease, the ball came in my zone, and I hit it over fine leg for four.

God has written the script: help the team win in two balls or 20 balls.

"Last season, every time we'd be in a tough situation, Hardik would say: "Oh I know that Tewu will finish the job for us." What more do you need when the captain shows such confidence in you? Samuel Rajkumar / © BCCI

This season, before your match against Mumbai Indians on April 25, you had faced 19 balls in six games. Against Mumbai you scored 20 off five balls and opened your innings with a six. Was that shot premeditated?
I noticed that both Riley Meredith and Jason Behrendoff [who bowled the last two overs] were bowling into the pitch a lot because the ball was gripping. And they were making use of the longer boundary by pitching the ball wide outside off. They were delivering to Miller with a similar plan. When I went in, the field was similar: square leg and fine leg were in.

I knew Meredith would bowl into the pitch or bowl a wide yorker, and if he was going to bluff me, I was ready to connect with the bat to clear behind square. When I saw the field, I realised that shot was open. With just about 11 balls left, if I hit two or three sixes straightaway, we could reach 190. Miller, too, got some big hits, so we reached 207.

The first shot was pre-planned. He pitched outside off stump and I connected and it was a six [on the leg side]. Behrendoff started with a knuckleball. I picked it easily [for a six over wide long-on]. The next ball, I knew he would go back to bowling into the pitch, so I once again went for the premeditated stroke to hit over fine leg for six.

When you get to face only a few deliveries, is there more pressure on your or less?
At this franchise, if I'm getting to play 20 balls or three, the freedom is the same. Even against Mumbai, there wasn't any message [from the coaches]. Bas, "Shabaash Tewu" [Only, "Good luck, Tewu"], and I go in. There is 100% freedom.

In the 16th over of a chase, there are many things going on in the brain. "There are four overs left, which bowler should I target?" When there are only four balls, you don't have an option. You just want to give your best in those four balls.

"A kid from a village, who was playing on the streets, is now playing the role of a finisher in an IPL team. So yeah, I'm close to the India dream, I believe" Aijaz Rahi / © Associated Press

Gujarat Titans have made you a specialist batter.
Haan, which I am enjoying (laughs).

I'm sure you're missing getting to bowl.
No, I make up for it in the nets (laughs).

Has the Impact Player rule had any influence on your role?
I mean, I'm happy. I see that we are adding a batsman and I'm getting to face fewer balls. That means the team is doing well. The top order is performing well. If someone asks me if I want more batting, I'll say that as long as the top order is winning us matches, what's the problem? We are obviously happy with a nine- or eight- or seven-wicket win. The top order has performed so well that we [lower order] were not needed.

What else is a team man? There is a big difference between a team man and someone who thinks just about themselves. It is very important for an individual to be a team man. If you just think about yourself, your team will eventually suffer. You can't play cricket just thinking about yourself.

Do you still dream of playing for India?
Haan, bilkul. That dream has been there since I was a kid watching cricket on television. "Yaar, yahan khelna hai, yeh jersey pehen ni hai" [Man, I want to play on these grounds, I want to wear the India jersey]. Now that I have come close, why will I waver from that dream?

"If you don't improve yourself every day, even if it is by 0.1%, then what is the benefit of playing this sport?" Surjeet Yadav / © Associated Press

Are you close to it then?
It's up to the selectors (laughs). A kid from a village, playing in chaddi baniyaan on the streets, is now playing the role of a finisher in an IPL team. So yeah, I'm close to the India dream, I believe.

You were picked in the Indian squad first time in 2021, for the home series against England. You didn't play any matches, but are you in a better place now to represent India than you were two years ago?
Hundred per cent. If you don't improve yourself every day, even if it is by 0.1%, then what is the benefit of playing this sport? There has to be some motivation. I am in a better place now.

How has Hardik helped you become better?
This season he has given me two match bats. He brought new bats one day and asked me to check them. I told him they were ready to be used in a match and he said: keep them. Those are the bats I've played with so far this season.

Last season, after seven or eight matches, he told me: "Good to see that you're consistently finishing matches for us." Every time we'd be in a tough situation, he would say: "Oh I know that Tewu will finish the job for us." What more do you need when the captain shows such confidence in you?

So you have earned your haq?
That I will get when God wishes it. But yes, for the past few years, I don't need to think anymore whether my name will be in the playing XI.

That's a big thing for an uncapped player - to become a go-to player and a match-winner.
More than me, my family is happy. There were times in the past when my family would switch on the TV and wouldn't see my name in the XI. They all would become sad. After four to five matches in the 2020 season, I told them, you don't need to be sad anymore. You will not need to switch off the TV anymore.

Nagraj Gollapudi is news editor at ESPNcricinfo