Before every important match, a renowned domestic coach once used to say to all his players: “Jangal mein mor nacha kisne dekha?” It’s a popular Hindi proverb. That loosely translates into, who cares what you have done in the wilderness? In the context of cricket, what he meant was that whatever the players have done in league games or against comparatively weaker oppositions, hardly matter. They need to perform in big games, when all eyes, at least of the ones who matter, are glued to them. Devdutt Padikkal has done exactly that.
The Karnataka left-hander smashed 151 off 218 balls in an Elite Group C Ranji Trophy against Tamil Nadu in Chennai in front of the chairman of selectors, Ajit Agarkar. The former India pacer was in the stands, taking notes of Padikkl’s exploits against an attack that had Sandeep Warrier, Sai Kishore and Vijay Shankar.
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When Padikkal hit 12 fours and 2 sixes in his crucial knock that enabled Karnataka to post 366, eventually giving them enough runs to get 3 points on a first innings lead, on February 9, little did he know that a couple of days later, he would be summoned by the Indian team.
KL Rahul was declared not a 100% fit for the third Test against England slated to begin on Thursday in Rajkot. The right-hander, who missed the second Test in Visakhapatnam due to a quadriceps injury, would require a few more days to regain full fitness. he is likely to be available for the fourth and fifth Tests in Ranchi and Dharamsala. But for the third Test, India needed a backup. In came Padikkal.
Devdutt Padikkal’s stellar stats in this season
Padikkal has been in tremendous form in this Ranji Trophy season. The lanky left-hander has notched up three centuries in four matches and has amassed 556 runs at a stunning average of 92.66. In between, he also registered 105, 65 and 21 for India A against the touring England Lions side. All this was very important in his rise but one has to believe that the 151 in front Agarkar acted as a springboard for the 23-year-old.
He was not putting on a show in the jungle. He batted at his fluent best in front of the chief selector and it did wonders.
Padikkal, who has played two T20Is in the 2021 tour to Sri Lanka where the pitches heavily in favour of the spinners, has just started to peak at the right moment. Always considered a better white-ball batter – he has a List A average of 81.52 in 30 matches and he made a name for himself in the IPL while opening the batting for the Royal Challengers Bangalore – Padikkal has slowly but surely started to make it count in red-ball cricket.
The first-class average of 44 probably still doesn’t do justice to his talent but if his performance in this season is anything to go by then that is likely to rise quickly.
Padikkal is yet to link up with the Indian squad in Rajkot. His Ranji Trophy fixture ended on Monday and he is set to travel from Chennai to Rajkot on Tuesday. It is unclear whether he would straightaway join the afternoon practice session at SCA stadium in the afternoon.
The chances for a Test cap are also slim but not impossible. In the absence of Virat Kohli (out of the series due to personal reasons), KL Rahul (injured) and Shreyas Iyer (dropped), the team management is likely to go with Sarfaraz Khan and Rajat Patidar in the middle-order. Patidar made his debut in Visakhapatnam and is set to get another crack, probably at No.4 this time. After a truckload of runs and years of banging at the door, Sarfaraz is finally ready to see the light of the day.
However, the impact of the practice sessions on Tuesday and Wednesday cannot be ruled out completely. If Padikkal attends both the sessions and impresses captain Rohit Sharma and head coach Rahul Dravid like he did with Agarkar then he may spoil Sarafarz’s party. But the chances of that appear to be slim, at least as things stand now.