It’s been that kind of a season. The teams Devdutt Padikkal supports are giving him grief. A die-hard Manchester United and Ferrari fan, he can’t bear to watch for more than a few minutes of live action given their disappointing run in the Premier League and Formula One respectively.
“Man United is his team; when he wears the United shirt we know today there is a game. (But) last game when we spoke, he had switched off the match. I then messaged him that they won at the last moment. Sebastian Vettel is his favourite driver; nowadays because of how the team (Ferrari) is doing, he will watch only the first few minutes,” says his father Babunu Padikkal.
Devdutt is no ordinary fan. As a professional cricketer, he is rapidly building his fan base as a key member of the star-studded Royal Challengers Bangalore. RCB fans have had no reason to complain. After getting a break in this edition, the 20-year-old left-handed batsman is delivering as an opener, providing a solid base in helping build RCB’s best season since 2016. At the half-way stage, RCB shared the top spot (before Wednesday’s DC v RR game).
They had a perfect game on Monday. Devdutt set the tone with two inside out hits over cover off Kolkata Knight Riders’ highest-paid foreign signing Pat Cummins that took the breath away. Commentators were effusive in praise during his 23-ball 32. He has been touted as ‘a player who has the makings of an international cricketer for the next 10 years’.
“We were also waiting to see how he faces the international bowlers. He has faced domestic bowlers but these are all world class bowlers,” says Padikkal Sr, proud his son has adapted to the pressure of IPL with three fifties and two 30s in seven innings.
For young Padikkal, IPL has extended his sensational season. He was top-scorer in the 2019 Mushtaq Ali Trophy T20 tournament with 580 runs in 12 games. He was also the highest run-getter in Vijay Hazare Trophy one-day tournament with 609 runs in 11 games and topped Karnataka’s batting chart in Ranji Trophy with 649 runs in 10 matches.
To get such success as a left-handed batsman, work ethic is the key though you still need special qualities that make you stand out. His parents pick his ability to absorb things quickly. “He is a good listener,” says his father.
Grasping power is vital. Listening doesn’t mean Devdutt will change his own ideas. “If you say something he feels is useful for him, he will definitely take it, but he has his own way of doing things. Even if I buy a shirt, he will take it but may not use it. He has his own selections from a young age. Nobody has to tell him ‘you do this, do that’. That’s his nature.”
Devdutt stands at 6’ 3” and enjoys excellent reach to play a range of shots. In U-14 days though he was among the tiny lot. “When I went with him to Goa for the under-14 tournament, he was the shortest player. He was half the size of boys from other states,” recalls his father.
His growth between 14 and 16 was so rapid many in the local cricket circles of Bengaluru nicknamed him Clive Lloyd, being a left-hander and a dominating batsman drawing comparisons with the Windies legend.
Devdutt’s engineer father recognised his cricket skills early, though the family is originally from football-mad Kerala. Babunu Padikkal says making career decisions were based on his son’s cricket coaching.
It started in Hyderabad in 2007 when a seven-year-old Devdutt joined a summer cricket camp run by Ambati Rayudu’s uncle. “It was Rayudu uncle who saw something special in the boy. After the camp, he asked me to enroll him in the regular camp.”
Despite a frail frame, Devdutt has pounded the bowlers, be it IPL or the Mushtaq Ali tournament before that. It comes naturally to him. What’s impressive is he doesn’t slog to boost the strike-rate – proper cricketing shots and compact technique stand out.
“That (technique) is what he worked on from the beginning. He basically wants to be Test player, not a one-day or T20 player,” says his father. The credit for his set-by-step grooming goes to the Karnataka Institute Of Cricket (KIOC), which built on the template set by his coach at St Peter’s School, Hyderabad.
“Harish is Devdutt’s first coach. He learnt all the basics from him. He took care of him for the first two years. He used to take him around on his scooter as well for matches. In Hyderabad, we were not finding the next level. Then an opportunity to shift to my Bengaluru office arose and we moved for better cricket prospects.”
IN DRAVID’S SCHOOL
Like all seasoned coaches, Imran Sait and Nasseruddin (Nasser), the senior coach at KIOC, didn’t change his original game. They just built on the strong foundation. Sait and Nasser got him admission in a local school until the coach at Rahul Dravid’s alma mater, St Joseph’s, was impressed with Devdutt’s performance against his team. Soon, he was part of one of the strongest school teams in Bengaluru.
Nasser recalls how Devdutt went home crying one day for not getting to bat in the nets. “The first eight days at our academy, he didn’t get batting in the nets. He went home crying and his parents called me, asking to take him in the nets. When I saw him bat, I put him in the U-14 nets. There also there was no match for him. Similarly, from the U-16 nets, I had to put him with the U-19 boys. That was his class, he has god’s gift,” says Nasser.
IPL is the latest stepping stone for Devdutt. His confidence at the crease shows he belongs, and promises greater things.