When Devdutt Padikkal ended his maiden List A tournament - the 2019 Vijay Hazare Trophy - as its highest run-getter, he had little inkling of the morphosis awaiting. It was four years in the making, took him through the national team and three Indian Premier League (IPL) franchises, and left him back where he started, only wiser and better adept.
His first forays in domestic cricket and the IPL made headlines. The rapid climb started with 609 runs in the Vijay Hazare trophy, followed by his IPL debut in 2020 with Royal Challengers Bangalore. Padikkal slotted in with ease, scoring 473 runs as an opener with Aaron Finch. Next year, Padikkal entered the exclusive club of IPL centurions at just 20.
As often happens with IPL sensations, the India call-up came knocking. Padikkal was part of the touring team for Sri Lanka, where he played two T20Is in July 2021. A year later, he got rewarded handsomely when Rajasthan Royals paid 7.75 crores for his services in the auction.
At Royals, Padikkal played as an opener in seven matches, scoring only 134 runs at an average of 19.14. He had better success as a middle-order batter, with 242 runs in 10 innings.
But his inability to inject momentum in the middle – most notably through the playoffs when he scored 39 runs in three innings at a strike rate below 100 – were held against him.
“Cricket has evolved in a manner that every batter has to be able to bat in any position. I enjoy that challenge,” Padikkal said.
His chances of cementing a spot in the national team also grew slim. Shikhar Dhawan’s exit vacated a spot, but Shubman Gill and Ishan Kishan were ahead in the queue.
In 2023, Padikkal’s role with RR was scattered across the middle order once more. This time there was a slender uptick in the strike rate which touched 130. He notched two fifties at one-down to finish the tournament with 261 runs in 11 essays. However, the overall modest returns convinced the team to trade Padikkal to Lucknow Super Giants for Avesh Khan ahead of the upcoming season. Yashasvi Jaiswal’s meteoric rise did not help Padikkal’s case either.
Just days after the news of his trade, Padikkal was back to where it all started, at the Vijay Hazare Trophy.
The only difference - Padikkal, in 2019, was an opener; this time, he is a team man, learning to be flexible enough, and, in equal proportion, confident enough to assert himself to suit the situation.
“[In] The last couple of years, I have played in different positions and that helps when you are batting in the middle overs. There are options that open when you are more experienced in batting in that position,” Padikkal said.
His two innings in the Vijay Hazare Trophy this year have been of striking contrast. Against Jammu & Kashmir, he walked in at 267 for one in the 38th over, while he was called in in the first over against Uttarakhand
“The first game, we were in a good position, and I had to just go out there and ensure our total was the highest. Today, we lost a wicket in the first over and I had to consolidate. There was a little bit happening, it is always like that here in the morning.
“It was not that easy and I just wanted to make sure that we did not lose too many wickets early on,” Padikkal told Sportstar after the game against Uttarakhand.
Padikkal aced the test on both occasions, getting a blitzkrieg-like 35-ball 71 in the first and a more sedate 122-ball 117 in the second.
He took on the bowlers against J&K and negotiated the early swing against Uttarakhand with equal aplomb.
The morphosis which once left Padikkal looking out of place, now appears to be nearing its final phase. “There are lots of things that I have learned over the past couple of years,” Padikkal said.
Padikkal’s last appearance in the Vijay Hazare Trophy was in 2020 (held in March 2021) when he scored 737 runs at 147.40. His early knocks in 2023 hints at a similar run haul. The last one aided his entry into the national side. Padikkal is counting on this to do the same.
“You always want to play for your country, and that continues to be my aspiration. All I can do is perform at this level and hopefully they will see what I am doing. Hopefully, I will get that chance again. But at the end of the day that is not in my hands. I must continue to work hard and put in the performances,” Padikkal said.
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