With a fifty on debut, Devdutt Padikkal does his bit | Crickit

With a fifty on debut, Devdutt Padikkal does his bit

By, Dharamsala
Mar 08, 2024 09:51 PM IST

It was a steady knock but it provided more than a glimpse of the left-hander's promise

Devdutt Padikkal’s first scoring shot in Test cricket wasn’t the kind he would have visualised when he was given his baggy blue cap by R Ashwin on Thursday morning. It was unremarkable and a tad fortuitous, loosely driving at a fullish delivery by Ben Stokes and edging to the left of first slip for four shortly after lunch on Friday.

India's Devdutt Padikkal plays a shot on Day 2 of the 5th Test match against England, at Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association Stadium, in Dharamsala on Friday(BCCI-X)
India's Devdutt Padikkal plays a shot on Day 2 of the 5th Test match against England, at Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association Stadium, in Dharamsala on Friday(BCCI-X)

Padikkal will cherish it long into the future nevertheless. “Every boundary is enjoyable but the first boundary, off the edge, was most enjoyable because those were my first runs in Test cricket,” Padikkal told reporters at the end of the second day's play.

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More glimpses of Padikkal’s ability came later in the day as the left-handed batter, standing tall at 6 feet and 3 inches, unfurled crisp cover drives and elegant back-foot punches on his way to a score of 65 off 103 balls. Streaky edges kept England’s fielders interested too, but Padikkal, 23, deserves all the luck in a young career already full of ups and downs. The first element of fortune came on match eve, when an injury to Rajat Patidar opened the door for Padikkal to make his Test debut at No.4. Padikkal’s call-up to the Test squad in Rajkot was also because KL Rahul hadn’t recovered from a thigh injury.

“Regardless of when you get to know (about making your debut), there is always going to be nervousness around. That was still there,” Padikkal said. “I got a message the previous night saying that I could be playing. I was nervous, it was a tough night’s sleep but it is something you also enjoy at the same time. You live for those days.”

Padikkal’s promise was first on view when he played for Royal Challengers Bangalore in IPL 2020 – 473 runs in 15 matches at 31.53 revealing his ability to sweetly time the ball most of all.

In the cut-throat world of Indian cricket, brimming with young and talented batters, Padikkal – a Malayali who lives in Bengaluru and plays for Karnataka – had to keep performing to stay ahead of the competition though. He did feature in two T20Is for a second-string India on the tour of Sri Lanka in 2021, but that year also saw his progress derailed by a battle with Covid-19 and subsequent stomach-related health issues that included severe weight loss.

His struggles were acutely felt in domestic cricket. In his first four seasons for Karnataka, his first-class average was never above 45, clearly sub-par when you consider that Sarfaraz Khan was averaging in the high 60s and still yearning for an opportunity at the Test level until this series. Padikkal’s fortunes changed this season, accumulating 556 runs in four matches in the Ranji Trophy at an average of 92.66 -- the most prolific run-getter for a team comprising Mayank Agarwal and Manish Pandey. Padikkal also impressed for India A in the four-day matches against England Lions, scoring 105, 65 and 21 in three innings in Ahmedabad.

“Obviously runs give you confidence and it was not any different for me,” said Padikkal. “For the first couple of years, I wasn’t doing well in first-class cricket but you keep working hard, try to improve your game and make those small adjustments. I am still learning and still making adjustments.”

The adjustments that Padikkal speaks about aren’t just technical. “I made a couple of small changes technically but mentally yes, I made the changes. I wanted to ensure that I enjoy the game a lot more because the last couple of years I couldn’t play that often and missing games made me realise how much I missed the sport. How much I want to be in the action, doing things I loved as a kid,” he said.

It's unlikely that Padikkal will play India’s next Test a few months down the line given the calibre of batters – Virat Kohli, Rahul and possibly Rishabh Pant – due to return to the middle-order. But by grabbing his opportunity on debut, Padikkal has done his bit.

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