BENGALURU: It was a nippy winter morning in December 2019 in Mysuru. Teenage southpaw Devdutt Padikkal, his feet feeling like lead, made his way back to the pavilion. He was heartbroken, having fallen on 99 against Himachal Pradesh in a Ranji Trophy league fixture.
In his two-season-old Ranji Trophy career, it was the sixth occasion when Padikkal had failed to convert a start into three digits. 99 is a cruel number to be dismissed on and Padikkal, by his own admission, cried after that innings. That turned out to be a prelude to the struggles the youngster had to endure in his pursuit of excellence and the dream to wear the whites for the country. He inched closer to his dream on Monday evening.
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As Karnataka wrapped up their Ranji Trophy league fixture against Tamil Nadu in Chennai, the 23-year-old received his maiden Test team call-up albeit in unenviable circumstances – as replacement for state-mate KL Rahul, who is yet to recover from a quad injury.
Padikkal will join the India squad in Rajkot on Tuesday ahead of India’s third Test against England starting on Thursday.
Incidentally, Padikkal received his maiden state senior team call-up when a clutch of the Karnataka top-order bats, including Rahul were away on national duty.
“The call-up is yet to sink in. The Test team is always a dream, and this has come after a tough few years. I feel very proud that all the hard work I’ve put in has paid off. Can’t thank my family and well-wishers enough for sticking by me,” Padikkal told TOI.
Padikkal, who made his T20 international debut in 2021, has been through testing times in his career, with the worst coming in 2022. An intestinal issue worsened over time and his career was on a crossroads. He missed the Vijay Hazare Trophy, didn’t look himself in the five Ranji Trophy matches he played and was dropped from the quarterfinal line-up of the red-ball competition. The illness left Padikkal mentally down but more worryingly it was the physical health which needed to be addressed.
“Returning from the illness was very tough. The biggest challenge was to get physically fit. I had lost 10 kilos and I had to eat right and concentrate on regaining muscle and strength,” said the lanky youngster.
Not losing confidence was the key. “At this stage of my career every match counts and here I was missing a lot of games. It was disturbing because there was a lot of competition. While it was challenging, I had to stay focused on doing well when I returned. I worked really hard. I began the season with the determination of winning as many matches as possible for Karnataka.”
The turnaround this year has been tremendous for Padikkal. He was part of India ‘A’ team for the South Africa tour. Padikkal, to whom the pulls and the cuts come easily across formats, has amassed 556 runs in five Ranji Trophy matches, including three centuries with the latest one coming against TN last week.
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Padikkal missed the previous two league matches after he turned out for India ‘A’ against England Lions, where he scored 191 runs in two matches (1×100; 1×50).
The batter prefers top order but adaptability is forte.
“I enjoy whatever opportunities I get. While each batting position comes with its challenges, I’m up for it because that’s going to help me grow as a cricketer. It is a part of my learning process.”
This attitude will hold Padikkal in good stead, considering that the middle order is where the opportunities lie in the current Indian team.