Dubai: It was almost a no-brainer that Devdutt Padikkal, the gifted opener of Royal Challengers Bangalore, will be the ‘Emerging Player of the Year’ in the Indian Premier League (IPL) which concluded here last week. The job of the jury, in fact, was never easier in recent memory as the 20-year-old created such a major impact on the tournament by the halfway stage of the tournament itself.
The graceful left-hander from Karnataka topscored for a franchise which boasted of Virat Kohli, AB de Villiers and Aaron Finch with 473 runs and more importantly, belied his age with a calmness at the top of the batting order - which had the cricket fraternity raving about him. Padikkal, however, was not really surprised at his form as he felt that he made his entry into the cutting edge competition of IPL with enough runs to back him.
‘‘To be honest, the runs did not come as a surprise as I had done well in the domestic season. The IPL was a good platform for me and I wanted to carry on the form there,’’ Padikkal said from India. The interview requests had been piling up ever since he returned to Bangalore and the clarity of thought from the member of last Under-19 World Cup squad has perhaps reveals the source of maturity in his batting.
Speaking to Gulf News during an exclusive interview over phone, Padikkal said he believed in ‘‘keeping things simple’’ as he launched into some breathtaking flicks off his pads or some of the scorching cover drives - which fetched him five half-centuries. ‘‘I have learnt a lot from my senior teammates in the Karnataka side like KL Rahul, Mayank Agarwal, Manish Pandey and Karun Nair - we have got some very good batsmen in our state team,’’ said Padikkal, a Malayali whom his parents moved to Bengaluru when he was barely a 10-year-old.
Not too many people may be aware that he was also a member of the RCB dugout last year but didn’t get a game - same as Ruturaj Gaekwad - another talented opener who was with Chennai Super Kings last season till he came good in the UAE. However, Padikkal’s prolific form in last domestic season during which he played a crucial role in victories in both white-ball tournaments for his state (Syed Mushtaq Ali and Vijay Hazare Trophy where he emerged as the highest run-getter in both tournaments). did not go unnoticed and none less than skipper Virat Kohli had him in his plans as an opener for the 2020 season.
‘‘It’s been like a dream-come-true for me to be able to be able to interact with him (Kohli). I have learnt a lot by training with batting with him,’’ said the youngster,
As the TV pundits gushed about his freeflowing strokeplay, former Indian star Yuvraj Singh - one of the cleanest strikers of the white ball in his time - joking ‘dared’ Padikkal to bat together and find out out who can hit the ‘‘longest six.’’ When reminded about it, a coy Padikkal said: ‘‘He is one of the batsman whom I have grown up admiring. It’s great of him to say a few good things about me and I have to admit that my flick shots are inspired by him.’’
The IPL euphoria over, Padikkal will be getting down to business once again with the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) contemplating a truncated domestic season. ‘‘My journey has just begun. I am not sure about the domestic season but after a few weeks’ break, I will start training for the season ahead,’’ said Padikkal.
Despite making his mark as an extraordinary T20 talent, Padikkal had laid out his priorities. ‘‘Playing for India is the ultimate goal and I want to play in all three formats. In today’s scenario, one should be able to do that to cement his place in the Indian team and I plan to adapt and work on my game accordingly,’’ he said.
The air of expectations is huge around him and Padikkal is aware of it. Someone like G.K. Anil Kumar, Karnataka coach and one of their biggest talent scouts, put it in perspective: “Pandya, Bumrah took some time. They took 1-2 years to really establish themselves, but with Padikkal you can clearly say that the kind of impact he’s had in his first IPL is tough even for an established international cricketer match playing his first IPL to match. It is really difficult to categorize Padikkal, a youngster, a rookie, getting into his first IPL, he got five half-centuries – three of which came in four matches. That speaks volumes of what he can do later,” he said in a recent interview.
We cannot really wait to see more of Padikkal in action!