Kolkata: It’s not just a cliche to say that Virat Kohli and young Devdutt Padikkal share the relationship of a ‘guru’ (master) and ‘shishya’ (disciple). During the preparation for IPL 2020 in the UAE, the Royal Challengers head coach Simon Katich had actually divided the team into two groups of mentors with junior players assigned to them - the idea being the latter should be able to feed off the experience of the other for improvement.
Needless to say, Virat Kohli - a captain who prefers to lead by example - had a 20-year-old Padikkal as a student in Katich’s mentor programme. What none of the involved parties possibly bargained for was that the gifted Karnataka opener can outshine his mentor on a given day - as was the case when Padikkal toyed with the Rajasthan Royals bowling on way to his first century in IPL on Thursday night. The sense of joy and appreciation in Kohli’s face was quite apparent as Padikkal reached a breathtaking century in 50 balls - as their unbroken 181-run partnership for the opening wicket made RCB’s task ridiculously easy in overhauling a decent enough target of 178.
Just ponder the scenario on Thursday night - when RCB reached 105 without loss at the halfway mark of their innings - Padikkal was batting at 79 off 35 balls while Kohli was content at playing the second fiddle at 25 off 23 balls. The first six of the chase, ironically, had come from Kohli’s bat in their first over against leg spinner Shreyas Gopal - who was brought into the team for a good match-up record against the Indian captain. Padikkal, however, took the cue from there and was simply unstoppable.
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Coming into the IPL on the back of a red hot form in domestic cricket, Padikkal’s timing was flawless on Thursday night. One of the refreshing aspects of his craft is that Padikkal relies on lofted drives, pulls and audacious flicks on the onside which reminds you of Yuvraj Singh at his prime - while the fancy lap shots or slog sweeps are far less in comparison. The head remains absolutely still at the time of execution of the shots, as the coaching mannuals would ask you to - no wonder that he wants to excel in all formats of the game.
Kohli, for whom this was the first half-century in IPL 2021 despite getting good starts, gave another example of his current philosophy to batting. It was only a matter of time that he reached the landmark of being the first player to reach 6000 IPL runs, but he was more concerned that the team should get a good start and left it on the tall and lithe younger partner to seize the initiative.
Meanwhile, the Royals did well to pick themselves up from the early shocks and put up a fighting total - but their troubles are far from over. Two of their prized overseas recruits - Ben Stokes and Jofra Archer are out with injuries while a third, England’s Liam Livingstone, has left for home due to bubble fatigue. The odds will be stacked against them to stage a turnaround and claw their way up from the bottom of the table.