You usually don’t see enough left-handed batters or seam bowling all-rounders in India.
In its quest to fulfil stocks in both departments, team India has dabbled through multiple options for years. India struggled to maintain its balance in the absence of its premier fast-bowling all-rounder Hardik Pandya, during his injury concerns over the last few seasons. While he is back, up, and running, no one on the horizon can possibly fit in as a like-to-like replacement for Hardik, for now.
Meet Hyderabad’s T Ravi Teja, a left-handed batter and a right-arm fast bowler, who is hoping to throw his hat into the ring after consistent performances in recent years. Last weekend, Teja cracked his second First Class hundred while representing South Zone in the Duleep Trophy semifinal against North Zone in Salem.
No. 8 in the South Zone order, Teja was promoted to No. 3 by captain Hanuma Vihari after his first innings knock of 42. He relished the opportunity by cruising to an unbeaten 104 off 120 balls as South thumped North by 645 runs.
Teja is coming off a dominant performance in the 2021-22 Ranji Trophy season where he was Hyderabad’s second-leading run-scorer (197) and topped the bowling charts (20 wickets) for the team that failed to get past the group stage.
“As you can see from my stats, I was the leading (second) wicket-taker among pacers in the last Ranji Trophy season. I also played some important innings, like against Bengal, one of the best attacks in the country (82 not out). These performances naturally give me confidence with the bat, and I can play three formats,” says Teja.
Does he mentally believe that he can be Hardik’s backup in the national side?
“Not just in my mind, it’s everywhere (laughs). Yes, I feel I can be Hardik’s backup in the national team. More than that, I genuinely believe I have the skills to represent the country. It’s about consistency now. I am looking forward to this (Duleep Trophy) final to put up a show with my bowling and contribute with the bat and win this tournament,” he remarks.
Teja, who is inspired by Hardik and idolises England’s Ben Stokes, reasons his beliefs. “I have always felt that there’s only a Hardik Pandya (as a fast bowling all-rounder in India). Hardik has set some standards. You look at the other players that have come. Some of them had batting but couldn’t be given full-time bowling. Some can bowl above 140kph but can’t play the batting role. My main ability is that I can play as a proper batter in the top-order and play as a frontline bowler. Plus, I am a left-handed batter and that suits certain combinations,” he says.
Teja said the lack of playing time over the last two years during COVID-19 coupled with Hyderabad’s early exits have not helped his case. An IPL contract – invariably the easiest route to hit the spotlight – has not come his way yet but Teja remains positive about other ways to the top.
Teja lays out his plans for the upcoming domestic season – a good outing in the Syed Mushtaq Ali T20s could be a key for an IPL bid. “People are looking at the finishing role. My only aim this year is to be the guy that wins the matches for my team across formats and tournaments. Hyderabad is getting better with Tilak Varma, our captain Tanmay Agarwal, Tanay Thyagarajan, Chama Milind and myself around. The aim is to win one of SMAT or Vijay Hazare this year.”
Having been a Sourav Ganguly fan since childhood, Teja switched from right to left-handed batting and has been mentored by current India fielding coach, T Dilip, since his formative years.
Teja also exudes confidence from his experience with the South Zone team which includes several players who have played for India. “It’s insane for me to be here, sharing a dressing room with them because I have always followed them. Vihari has been my childhood friend. He has played a lot of cricket at so many levels. He is the one who backed me and sent me to No. 3. I also had a great chat with Mayank Agarwal.
“He told me that ‘for some, it might take that extra year to get there. It’s not about getting it this year or a year later. But if you keep doing what you do, you will eventually get there. Everyone’s journey is different.’ That hit me and I was happy that a player of his stature took the time to talk and explain things,” Teja says as he gears up for a strong Duleep Trophy finish against West Zone in the final in Coimbatore.