Teen batsman takes big strides forward

Teen batsman takes big strides forward

STEADY PROGRESS Devdutt Padikkal has given a good account of his talent in the just-concluded BCCI age-group tournaments and last year’s KPL. FILE PHOTO

Fighting self-doubt doesn’t come easy for all sportspersons. Ask Devdutt Padikkal. He describes his last couple of years as frustrating. He partly blames himself for the struggle. Devdutt failed to live in the present and the consequence of such an approach wasn’t encouraging. With runs hard to come by, the Karnataka batsman questioned his abilities.

The intense competition that exists in Karnataka cricket can sometimes rattle the confidence of even of the best of players. Devdutt wasn’t spared either as he desperately yearned for a call-up to the senior State team. The left-handed top-order batsman, however, survived the tough phase thanks to his love for the game. The strong support system – coaches and family – enhanced his confidence. Self-doubt was replaced by self-belief and the desired results have begun to come his way.

The 18-year-old was picked in the Karnataka Vijay Hazare Trophy earlier this year but he didn’t get a game. The big news, though, arrived this month. The youngster was named in the India U-19 four-day and one-day squads for the tour of Sri Lanka starting July 11. For Devdutt, it was an unbelievable moment.

“At first I actually couldn’t believe it. I was in shock. But later it sunk in and I am looking forward to making use of the opportunity. I want to do well for my country,” he tells.

Devdutt made a statement by racking up 829 runs to be the fourth highest run-getter in the Cooch Behar Trophy this season. His terrific season saw him bag the Karnataka State Cricket Association (KSCA) best batsman awards in the U-19 Vinoo Mankad Trophy and U-19 Cooch Behar Trophy.

“Last season I just enjoyed the game. In the last two years, I worried too much about selection. But I realised I should stop thinking about that and just enjoy the game, because that’s the reason I started playing the game. That was the difference. It was tough, you know. You have to realise your chance will come your way. I waited for my opportunity. It was mainly my mental aspect and I feel for every cricketer, it’s the mental strength that sometimes plays a key role,” he explains.

The effect of the improved mindset was evident in the Cooch Behar Trophy. Devdutt began to show hunger for runs and a desire to play long innings.  He recollects his match-winning effort against Mumbai as one of his favourites. “When you play Mumbai in Mumbai, a lot of people come to watch the game. There was immense pressure and I hadn’t performed well in the previous two games. But I managed to score 185. I later scored a double century against Assam.”

Devdutt, who turned out for Ballary Tuskers, had a decent Karnataka Premier League last year, with his 53-ball 72 being one of the highlights of the season. “KPL was really crucial for me, it was a platform for me to prove my potential. It gave me a lot of confidence. After that we had the State season. So I took my confidence into the State matches. I tried to keep it simple. I try to keep my game similar in all formats. I like to take my time. Even if it is T20s, I take the first 5-10 balls to get my eye in and then move on from there,” he says.

Born in Edappal, Malappuram district, Kerala, Devdutt, son of a businessman, moved to Hyderabad during his childhood. “It was during one of the summer vacations that my father bought me a bat and I started playing cricket. But everything began for me in Bengaluru. I moved to Bengaluru in 2011 to pursue cricket and I joined the Karnataka Institute of Cricket (KIOC). Training under Irfan (Sait) sir and Nasir sir changed everything for me and I owe a lot to KIOC,” says Devdutt, who is a first-year student at the St Joseph’s College of Commerce.

Devdutt idolises former Indian opener Gautam Gambhir. “He is the first batsman I looked up to. It was his drives! When I started watching, I loved watching his drives,” he says. It appears that Gambhir’s style of play (a strong front-foot player) has had an influence on Devdutt. But it required some changes in his technique for him to be consistent, says KIOC head coach Irfan Sait.

“For a long time he was a front-footed player. School cricket is okay, you get away with the ifs and buts, but when it comes to serious cricket you need the cuts and pulls. So we identified the problem. Once he started getting an array of shots, runs started coming in heaps. He is a blessed player, he has been getting runs and winning matches and tournaments for Karnataka,” Irfan notes.

Irfan says it was important to keep Devdutt composed during his early days. “Thanks to some friends and well-wishers in the KSCA committees, the little bit feedback we get from the coaches and senior players, we come and work on him, we tell him what’s expected of him.

“That helps in a large way. We had to calm his nerves, he was so involved and obsessive about the game but he also needed moral support and we gave him that,” he explains.