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Devdutt Padikkal and his date with destiny in RCB's top order

Devdutt Padikkal should play at the top for RCB in IPL 2020
Devdutt Padikkal should play at the top for RCB in IPL 2020
EXPERT COLUMNIST
Modified 15 Aug 2020, 15:13 IST
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Chris Gayle, Virat Kohli, KL Rahul, Brendon McCullum are just few of the biggest stars who have opened the batting for the Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) in the rich history of the Indian Premier League (IPL).

For 12 years of the IPL, RCB have been labelled as a 'top-heavy' side, and for no small reason. With the likes of foreign stars AB de Villiers, Kevin Pietersen, Ross Taylor donning the RCB jersey, fans have never had to endure a lengthy wait for their chunk of entertainment, at least when it comes to RCB's batting innings.

However, there have been quite a few issues that have plagued RCB's quest for that elusive IPL title - lack of strike bowlers apart.

It's no small secret that the batting has revolved only around Kohli and De Villiers, and if the two big guns are sent back to the pavillion early, the bowling team has often had the luxury to rest easy against RCB.

This year though, things could move in a new direction altogether with the addition of Aaron Finch, who is known to be one of the most powerful hitters of the cricket ball.

And yet, those who have followed Karnataka cricket for a few years now have high hopes from a young southpaw who has taken domestic cricket by storm - one who goes by the name of Devdutt Padikkal.

For those who have not tracked Devdutt Padikkal's mercurial rise from just another tennis ball cricketer in Bengaluru to one of Karnataka's batting lynchpin in the top order, here are the numbers.

He has 580 runs from 12 matches at an average of 64.44 and a strike rate of 175.75, including a fantastic 122* in what was his debut T20 season for the senior state team.

Devdutt Padikkal's purple patch was an indication of his potential as one for the future, and his pyrotechnics at the top also fuelled Karnataka's campaign which ended in a title triumph.

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Devdutt Padikkal could enjoy a breakthrough IPL campaign

With ample talent and age on his side, the 20-year-old was roped in by his home franchise, RCB, in the 2019 IPL auctions. Unsurprisingly, with not much to show apart from a few good knocks in the Ranji Trophy, Devdutt Padikkal was benched for the entirety of IPL 2019.

With IPL 2020 only a month away, more than 60-70% of the RCB faithful have opted to pick the youngster from positions 1-5 in the batting order. However, for what it's worth, Devdutt Padikkal might be best suited to play his natural role - taking on the bowlers from the first ball.

Furthermore, with the likes of Aaron Finch, Joshua Philippe and Moeen Ali unavailable for the opening few games, owing to the Australia-England series, one reckons that the southpaw might indeed be accorded the opportunity to do what he does best at the top.

However, with no experience of having played above the domestic cricket level, the proposition of playing Devdutt Padikkal at the top begs the question - Can Devdutt Padikkal handle the pressure of facing international bowlers?

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Cricket is a game of glorious uncertainties, and there have been numerous instances of experimentation manifesting into game-changing results.

For example, Kolkata Knight Riders promoted Sunil Narine - only a mystery bowler who was being slowly demystified - to open the batting with Chris Lynn. A masterstroke.

Granted, Devdutt Padikkal has probably not faced international bowlers to merit this experiment, but a 60-ball 122* against a senior state team at the age of just 19 years and 127 days certainly means that there is more to it than what meets the eye.

What's more, the youngster has all the shots in the book. A flowing cover drive, a powerful pull shot, a nonchalant pickup shot, and more importantly, the temperament and hunger to score runs. And, lots and lots of runs at that.

And yet, while his form and style could make a strong case for him to occupy the opening slot, it brings about another query - Where will Aaron Finch play?

Aaron Finch was roped in for IPL 2020 by RCB

Finch
Finch's stats at No.5 are commendable
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There's no doubt that burly opener Aaron Finch could well prove to plug the gap existing between the Kohli - de Villiers duo and the rest of the batting unit, and that's where his experience will come in handy.

Finch has played 75 matches in the IPL (73 as per howstat.com) and has represented seven different franchises. RCB will be his 8th franchise when he makes his debut for the Kohli-led side in IPL 2020.

What's interesting to note is that Finch has played in all positions from 1-5 in his seven seasons of the IPL and his best performance is indeed at No.5.

Aaron Finch IPL stats by batting position [SC: Howstat.com]
Aaron Finch IPL stats by batting position [SC: Howstat.com]

Without a shadow of doubt, Finch is certainly more suited to the T20 format as an opener, but as per the stats displayed above, he's enjoyed his best form at No.5.

Lest we forget, Finch did produce a couple of exciting knocks for the Kings XI Punjab at No.5 during IPL 2018, and there's no reason why he can't be backed to produce the same for RCB a month or more from now.

Why can't Devdutt Padikkal play at No.5 and let Finch open?

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The simple answer to this is Devdutt Padikkal can definitely be played at No.5, but in terms of the 'pressure of the IPL', it would probably be hara-kiri to pile the pressure on him and expect him to clear the boundaries more often than not.

At the top of the order, with the field in, Devdutt Padikkal can be given a free license to play his shots and complement Parthiv Patel. With his repertoire of shots and a penchant to score big, Devdutt Padikkal could well provide the start that Kohli, de Villiers and Finch can build on.

The biggest gift that Finch has is his ability to clear the boundary at will and his skill to accelerate when the situation demands it.

This ability of Finch to punish the bad balls and thump the ball over the boundary with the help of his big frame could even help Shivam Dube and Washington Sundar the room to play their shots - a win-win for the middle order.

Devdutt Padikkal could be the next Virat Kohli

12 years from making his RCB debut, Virat Kohli is one of the best batsmen in the world
12 years from making his RCB debut, Virat Kohli is one of the best batsmen in the world
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Lest one forgets, Virat Kohli came into the side as a youngster and has grown into one of the world's best cricketers, having rubbed shoulders with some of the biggest names of the sport - a journey which started with RCB.

As for IPL 2020, RCB have a chance to hand enough and more opportunities to the young southpaw to make the opening spot his own and provide fireworks to carve out a career for himself.

Batting alongside legends such as Kohli, de Villiers, Finch and even someone as experienced like Parthiv Patel can only do Devdutt Padikkal good, even if the pressure of expectations from fans is something that might bog him down.

And, for those who have their eyebrows raised about what happens if Devdutt Padikkal fails at the top, RCB have got an answer in Finch, who is one of the most destructive openers in the history of the game.

Additionally, the last time RCB played a Karnataka player or someone from the local state team in the playing XI was back in IPL 2017, when Sreenath Aravind played against KKR on May 7, 2017.

In Devdutt Padikkal, RCB have a chance to connect with the local fans through a local talent, in addition to potentially unearthing a star for the future at the top of the order.

And, it's not a secret that Mike Hesson, who is the Director of Cricket Operations at RCB is a massive fan of Devdutt Padikkal's style of play.

With the right backing at the top, the young left-hander could prove to be the darkhorse for RCB whenever he is cast into the eye of the storm in IPL 2020.

And, those who are well-versed with RCB's fortunes, you can bet your life that a tempest is on its way come the IPL.

Published 15 Aug 2020, 15:06 IST
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