20-year-old Devdutt Padikkal set the stage on fire when he opened the innings ahead of someone of the stature of Virat Kohli to score a stroke-filled 42-ball 56 on his Indian Premier League (IPL) debut for Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB). Padikkal is no stranger to scoring big as he finished as Karnataka’s leading run-getter in all three formats last season. In fact in the Vijay Hazare Trophy and the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, Padikkal was the leading run-scorer in the tournament to help Karnataka win the 50-over and the 20-over formats.
Padikkal moved to Bangalore at a young age with a dream to play cricket and it all started for him at the Karnataka Institute of Cricket (KIOC) under the watchful eyes of Irfan Sait, who other than grooming talents like Robin Uthappa, Mayank Agarwal and Manish Pandey among others is also eligible for coaching in countries like England and Australia.
In a chat with Cricket.com. Sait shares his excitement of seeing Padikkal shine at the big stage and his journey so far, among other topics.
How excited were you to see Devdutt Padikkal make his IPL debut?
To be honest every cricketer excites us. Coming from our own boy, someone who has grown up with us, it’s very, very special. All of us thoroughly enjoyed.
Were you surprised to see Padikkal got a chance to open considering how good Virat Kohli is as an opener?
I was definitely not surprised. I was quite expecting it. Of course, I appreciate the gesture of RCB, the team management and Virat Kohli, that they put faith in this young boy. They would have seen him closely and those cricketing minds have quite correctly judged that this lad has what it takes to be a superstar.
Padikkal joined KIOC at a very young age. Did you right away know he would make it big? Was he naturally talented?
Initially, he just came, like so many other kids, from Hyderabad and his family was in a dilemma what to do – whether to stay back in Bangalore or go back to Hyderabad. But that’s the time we stepped in and encouraged the family [to stay in Bangalore]. From the very first look at him, he looked different, he looked very special. He was only 10 or 11 years old. The way he moved in the crease, the natural grace of a left-hander was absolutely impressive. The family made a big decision and a huge sacrifice in shifting entirely from Hyderabad to Bangalore. That paved the way for Karnataka and KIOC to get a wonderful cricketer.
Could you shed some light on Padikkal’s journey from KIOC to now playing in the IPL?
His family’s primary reason for shifting to Bangalore was cricket, but there was an issue that he had to be in a school where there was no Kannada because he did not know the language when he first arrived. They were very keen on a CBSE school. So, the nearest school to the KIOC was the Army Public School. Although the school was good and they thought that the academy cricket is good enough, but we felt that school cricket, the competitiveness and being in school competition was essential. Army Public School had a moderate team.
But there was one encounter where they played against the giants of school cricket in Bangalore, which is St Joseph’s Boys' High School – where Rahul Dravid, Robin Uthappa and others went. Playing against that school, Devdutt Padikkal won the match for Army Public School. All coaches from the KIOC were very excited and when the school coach approached, saying if he can have this lad in our school. They had to speak to his parents, sacrifice from CBSE to ICSE and from there on, school cricket completely was owned by this young lad – Devdutt Padikkal.
He’s still very young, but what do you think are Padikkal’s strengths and what do you think he needs to work on?
To be honest, his strength is his flair for the game. Technique everybody has. God has blessed him with grace and style of a left-hander. The flair that he has and ability to handle pressure situations is amazing. I have seen him so closely, in very close encounters, be it for U-14, U-16 or even in the KPL, when I was the coach and Devdutt played for my franchise, you could totally leave an innings to him. He could handle and manage that at a very young age. He first played in the KPL, when he was just 17. He first made his mark as an offspin bowler and then as an outstanding fielder. He took some amazing catches, he gave great starts and was the darling of the entire franchise. From there when he batted, he was all grace.
He was absolutely wonderful. We have seen him grow. After the KPL, that was the tournament he was spotted by the talent scouts and he was marked for big things. From there on, he made it into India Under-19 and he got a hundred in Sri Lanka and never looked back.
Do you think the India Under-19 tour of Sri Lanka in 2018 helped him to become a better cricketer?
All the NCA camps, rubbing shoulders with top-notch coaches, the top-ranking cricketers, all of them would have definitely contributed to his build-up and all the experience, maturity he has got from there is what is translating into such big performances now. If you remember, last season, for Karnataka in all three formats, he was the top-scorer. This is special. We talk about Virat Kohli, who is good for all formats, at that mature age with his experience. Here you have a young lad, who has done extremely well at just 19-plus, he has done very well in all three formats.
It must be a proud feeling for you having groomed many prominent Karnataka and India cricketers.
Yes, I had a chance a chance to groom – from Robin Uthappa to Manish Pandey, Mayank Agarwal and dozens of these Karnataka state players and of course lots of other first-class players and internationals from other states and countries. Special pride is in these Manish Pandey, Robin Uthappa, Mayank Agarwal and now of course Devdutt Padikkal. I also have the honour and pleasure of having groomed five international Women cricketers. It has been a happy journey, God has been very kind and I have received a lot of encouragement and support from all quarters.
Do the likes of Mayank Agarwal or Robin Uthappa come to you for any tips or advice?
When they reach a certain stage, it is not serving them with lots of information. If they have some issue we just address that and leave it at that. Whether it is Shreyas Gopal, Stuart Binny or whoever trains with us we don’t enforce ourselves on them. It is just a little help here – it could be a mental issue, technical issue or a tactical issue.
Now do you see Agarwal cementing his place in the Test side in the years to come?
We haven’t seen anyone as exciting as Mayank Agarwal in the recent times. The kind of poise and grace that Mayank Agarwal has you could see. Even in this innings he played recently (against DC), you could see he started off in a very calm and composed manner and when he had to change gears, he had the ability to do that and he did it so very well and so smartly. These youngsters because of the educational background and all the knowledge they acquire, they are able to decipher the game a lot better than what was happening earlier. I am sure Mayank Agarwal will go the distance.
Image courtesy: BCCI