Few know Devdutt Padikkal better than GK Anil Kumar, the veteran coach from Karnataka, who’s helped shape the future of many a bright and promising young cricketer. GK, as he’s fondly called, is the man responsible for giving Indian cricket some of the finest players. KL Rahul, Mayank Agarwal, Karun Nair are some of the cricketers whose career Anil Kumar has nurtured as coach of Karnataka’s Under-19 team.
Hence, trust him to be the right man to weigh in regarding Padikkal, Indian cricket’s newest sensation. In an IPL year that saw the rise of several youngsters, Padikkal stood out head and shoulders above the rest, including all-rounder Rahul Tewatia and fast bowler T Natarajan. Padikkal became only the second player in the history of the IPL to rack up over 400 runs in his maiden season – Shreyas Iyer was the first to do so in 2015 – before capping off the tournament as the highest-scorer for his team, Royal Challengers Bangalore.
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Over the years, the IPL has given some gems to Indian cricket, who have excelled as the highest level – Jasprit Bumrah and Hardik Pandya come to mind – but Anil Kumar reckons Padikkal’s impact has been far greater than the Mumbai Indians’ fabled pair. Bold, one would assume? The veteran coach has a fair point to support his argument.
“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,” Anil Kumar told Hindustan Times.
“I think he will definitely be a top contender and reach where Pandya and Bumrah are. Without a doubt, Padikkal will rise to incredible heights with this IPL.”
The word ‘special’ is often loosely used for youngsters with immense talent, but Padikkal is someone really deserving of that tag. Having seen him from close quarters, Anil Kumar understands what runs in Padikkal’ mind, which, let him assure you, is a lot more mature for a 20-year-old.
“What separates Padikkal is his sharp cricketing acumen, his understanding of a game situation. More than anything else, the will of wanting to perform in a pressure situation. He likes it. Most will have butterflies in their stomach and they are thrusted into tournaments where the competition is grim. But Padikkal is one individual who enjoys pressure. Very few batsmen have that kind of mindset and conviction, that calmness,” Anil Kumar said about Padikkal.
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“His understanding of the game, conviction, calmness, game reading skills and the best part is god-gifted all-rounder. In Karnataka, when somebody comes into the team, he will face Vinay Kumar, Abhimanyu Mithun, K Gowtham and all these guys who have done reasonably well in domestic cricket. And him coming into the things and batting like a pro, as if he belongs there. His cricketing intelligence goes under the carpet because everybody is talking about his batting talent. But behind that his astute planning, which goes unnoticed.”
That sums up Padikkal’s mental aspect. Now onto the technical bit. Padikkal’s bat speed has gotten people talking. In fact, some of Padikkal’s shots remind former India fast bowler Venkatesh Prasad of Yuvraj Singh when he was starting off. A part of Padikkal’s terrific bat speed has to do with the fact that he’s gifted, but it wouldn’t be as effective had he not put in the extra yards, adds Anil Kumar.
“There is a player called Nasir, he played junior cricket for Karnataka. He used to play with me and Rahul Dravid. That guy has been instrumental because he used to give out drills. Though he was naturally gifted, Padikkal got that bat speed going by practicing really hard. Even when the rest of the players would leave, Padikkal used to stick around and do that extra bit,” the coach pointed out.
The IPL alone isn’t a tournament for Padikkal’s rise in stocks. He entered the IPL on the back of a superlative domestic season for Karnataka that saw him finish as the highest run-getter in the Vijay Hazare Trophy and the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy in 2019/20. In fact, in the T20 series, Padikkal amassed 580 runs at a strike-rate of 175.75. For someone who was just another fringe player during earlier seasons for RCB and Karnataka, this has marked Paddikal’s coming-of-age.
Anil Kumar recalls an interesting story regarding Padikkal. The year was 2017, and having played for the Under-19 team, Padikkal came into Karnataka’s Vijay Hazare set-up. The team had a starry batting line-up, hence, slotting Padikkal in that XI was not an option yet. But even at such a young age, Padikkal had made the coach take note of him.
“He was drafted into the squad but did not get a game. We were the champions of Vijay Hazare. What struck me was that even though he was not in the XI, his work ethic stood out. In that team, Rahul, Mayank and Karun were already present so he knew that he could not break into the team immediately, but the resurgence was there,” GK recalled.
“He had exams and left the team the day we were playing the final against Saurashtra. ‘Yeah, I’m leaving now but I’m coming back to stay from next year onward’. So much confidence. We won the final, a game that had Cheteshwar Pujara and Ravindra Jadeja playing, but then, this youngster (Padikkal) took a replica. Next year, he comes back and emerges as the highest-scorer. It has replicated in RCB. He was with RCB previously but couldn’t get a game and this year he’s made a terrific mark.”
From being on the sidelines last season, in 2020, Padikkal has been one of the chief architects for RCB this year. The opportunity to open the batting for RCB, not only did Padikkal grab it with both hands but transformed himself into one of the team’s most important players. Barring Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers, only Padikkal scored the runs in RCB’s run into the playoffs. Getting a mention in the same bracket as two of the most complete batsmen in international cricket isn’t a luxury a 20-year-old uncapped Indian enjoys.