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Devdutt Padikkal: 'Virat Kohli makes your game easier and helps you build an innings'

The young Royal Challengers Bangalore opener on what he learnt from Kohli, de Villiers and Finch, and his India goals

Devdutt Padikkal and Virat Kohli - a new opening pair for RCB, Sunrisers Hyderabad vs Royal Challengers Bangalore, IPL 2020, Eliminator, Abu Dhabi, November 6, 2020

Padikkal (left) on batting with Kohli: "He knows exactly what to do in every situation. Every time I batted with him, I could learn something new"  •  BCCI

Devdutt Padikkal, the 20-year-old Royal Challengers Bangalore opener, made his IPL debut this season and, with his elegant strokeplay, he even outscored Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers, taking home the Emerging Player Award for his 473 runs, which included five half-centuries, from 15 innings. After returning to India, he talked to us about his unforgettable season, the things he picked up from Kohli and de Villiers, and the bowler he found the most challenging to face.
Opening the batting for Royal Challengers, you had a crucial role in the powerplay. How did you plan your innings?
I was just looking to stick to my strengths and do what I do best. In T20 cricket, it's important how the powerplay goes. We had our roles clearly defined, so it was important to get that opening partnership away at a decent rate. And, to an extent, we were able to do that.
How and when did you come to know you'd be opening for RCB?
Simon Katich [RCB's head coach] came up to me the day before the [first] game in the team room and he was like, "You're going to be making your debut tomorrow". It was a huge moment for me and I was really happy about it.
You spent a lot of time in the middle with Kohli. You scored 345 runs together this season with four half-century stands. What did you learn from batting with him?
He makes your game easier and helps you build an innings. He knows exactly what to do in every situation because he is such an experienced player, he's played so much good quality cricket, and he's won so many things. Every time I batted with him, I could learn something new. It was a really great experience for me. I was just trying to take in as much as I can. I really enjoyed it.
Do you remember any particular conversations with him out in the middle?
Yeah, during the Rajasthan [Royals] game, we were batting together and I got a fifty. We knew that for the next batsman coming into the chase it's not always easy. It was important that I carried on. I was tiring a little bit and he kept pushing me to get those extra runs - whatever I could. He said it was important that I wouldn't throw my wicket away at that point. That's something he helped me out with in that innings.
You also tweeted two pictures with Kohli - one from a while ago in which you're receiving a medal from him and the other is a recent one in Royal Challengers colours. Can you tell us about the journey between those two photographs?
[The first one] was from a promotional event around five years ago. He [Kohli] had come to our academy [Karnataka Institute of Cricket]. A few boys from the academy were asked to go and play a match and he was there. Even Unmukt Chand [the former India Under-19 captain] was there. They were captains of two teams and I was part of Chand's team. After that, everyone was given a medal and Kohli gave my medal to me.
You didn't bat with de Villiers as much as you did with Kohli, but you must have picked his brain during the tournament?
Yeah. He's a special player. Just watching him bat is a treat for your eyes. Throughout the season, he kept telling me to stay in the zone and continue to do what I was doing. I remember when we were travelling back from the Mumbai [Indians] game in which I got the 70 [74], he sent me a text message saying, "Continue to do that and you're playing really well, just stay in the zone and enjoy yourself". That was really special because, coming from him, it was a great honour. I really enjoyed batting with him whenever I could because he makes your job so easy. He just takes on the bowlers from ball one and I enjoyed watching him.
In a lot of the videos that the Royal Challengers posted on social media, it seemed like you had a good rapport with Aaron Finch, whom you also opened with quite a few times. What kind of a relationship did you build with him as the season went on?
He's a really great person and I enjoyed spending time with him off the field as well. Like I said, all these experienced batsmen make your job easier. At the beginning of the tournament, we had this goal to have one of the highest opening partnerships of the season. I think we were third on the list after KL Rahul-Mayank Agarwal and Jonny Bairstow and David Warner, or second, I'm not sure [Padikkal and Finch were second with 444 runs behind Rahul and Agarwal, who made 671 runs together]. That's something we were looking to do and we were able to do that, to an extent.
You've scored a lot of runs in the last domestic season, but in the IPL, you were facing bowlers like Jofra Archer, Jasprit Bumrah and Pat Cummins. Did you have to take your batting one level up to face these fast bowlers?
Yeah, it's a different challenge compared to domestic cricket. But I knew I was prepared enough and we had put in three weeks of intense practice before starting the IPL.
Which bowlers made you think, "I've never faced this kind of pace before"?
Pace, not really, because there are quite a few bowlers who are pretty quick in the domestic circuit as well. Probably the one bowler I felt was challenging was [legspinner] Rashid Khan, because he has really good pace and turns the ball at the same time. He's not easy to pick. I think while facing him I felt like, "Okay, this is something I'm not used to."
What kind of preparation did you put in with the Royal Challengers over the last two years? Mike Hesson, the RCB director of cricket operations, said in November last year that when you were with the team in 2019, you showed a lot of willingness to learn from the seniors around you.
It was more [about] the mental side of the game, because after a certain point the physical aspect is in a set place. Then it's more about how you handle the pressure and the situation. So that's what I was working on and whenever I got a chance, even in domestic tournaments, I wanted to make sure that I took responsibility and tried to take the team home even though there were some international cricketers in our Karnataka side. That's something I really wanted to work on because I knew that when I came into the IPL, there will be big players around and I knew I'd want to be the one to take the responsibility.
Which senior batsman or coach in the Royal Challengers set-up did you approach the most when you had questions or doubts?
To an extent, it was Simon Katich, because he was really approachable. Whenever I felt like there was something I needed to work on and if I had any doubts, I would go to him.
You impressed everyone a lot with your strokeplay and flair, but statistics show that your strike rate dips after the powerplay. Did that bother you at any point? Did you feel it was something you needed to work on?
Definitely, sometimes you may not get the shots off the middle of your bat. That's part of the learning and hopefully I can continue to work on that and keep improving. It didn't really affect me too much because I knew that as I improve and learn, I can get better at that as well.
You have got plenty of runs in domestic cricket for Karnataka and an Emerging Player Award in the IPL. What's your next target?
Now the next step would be to play for the country. It's something everyone dreams of as a cricketer, so I'm looking forward to doing that soon. I'll continue to work on my game, continue to improve and, whenever I get the opportunity, I'll take it with both hands.

Vishal Dikshit is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo