"We spoke about it. He said, 'finish it off'. He said, 'many more to come'. I told him you tell me that after you get the first one." This was Virat Kohli talking about asking Devdutt Padikkal to complete his maiden Indian Premier League century before they ran out of runs to chase last night, and being told to 'finish it off' instead.
If a 20-year old, only into his second season, turning down a beneficial offer from one of the greatest cricketers of all time doesn't sound incongruous enough, some more context makes it look even more incredible.
Only a month ago, Padikkal had tested positive for COVID-19. He was able to join the Royal Challengers Bangalore squad only a couple of days before the IPL began, and missed the tournament opener. "Coming out of COVID was a big challenge, definitely," Padikkal said last night. "When I missed the first one, it really hurt me." He just wanted to be able to get back on the field and play again.
But for his first two matches in Chennai, the conditions were clearly not to his liking. He never came to terms with the stickiness and the lack of pace in the pitch at Chepauk, as scores of 25 off 28 and 11 off 13 attest.
His IPL season last year had been pretty impressive, especially for a debutant " 473 runs at an average of 31.53 " but the middling strike rate, 124.80, had also not gone unnoticed. He would make even purists gasp at his crisp, easy-on-the-eye striking in the powerplay and then stall when the middle overs and spinners arrived. The effort would start to look laboured, and the boundary-riders would be on hand to prevent the fours he thrives on.
Given all this, why would you turn down the chance to reach that headline-grabbing century, especially when your all-powerful captain is at your side imploring you to get it? One reason, according to Padikkal, was that they wanted to reach the target as quickly as they could (to boost their net run-rate). The second reason lies in his second response to Kohli: "Many more to come."
That is the absolute confidence of a man with supreme faith in his abilities. The confidence of a batsman who has already struck six hundreds in 20 List A one-day innings and has 13 fifty-plus scores from 36 T20 innings. The confidence of having had a scarcely believable run of 52, 97, 152, 126*, 145*, 101, and 64 in the one-day Vijay Hazare Trophy for Karnataka in February and March.
It is not that Rajasthan Royals are short on talented Indian youngsters. Shivam Dube and Co did help them recover from 43/4 to a respectable 177/9. But there is something about Padikkal that makes him stand out. You don't need to be watching him take bowlers apart in limited-overs cricket to realise that he is special.
At the Bandra-Kurla Complex ground in Mumbai last year, the red ball swung and seamed and bounced so much that the hosts were 60/6 at one stage on way to being dismissed for 194 in the Ranji Trophy. And then, that chaos gave way to a calm 68-run Karnataka opening stand between R Samarth and Padikkal.
His ability to play the ball at the very last instant has been spoken about a lot already. That trait is even more visible when you watch him live. When the odd ball would bounce more than he had anticipated at BKC, he would adjust so late to defend you had started to think this ball was going to dismiss, or at least trouble, him. And the adjustment would be so unruffled, so minimal and so unhurried, you couldn't help but acknowledge that this guy was different. Equally late, but again, not rushed at all, would be his decision to pull a short one, and the ball would fly cleanly over square leg.
Back to the IPL. This was RCB's first match of the season at the Wankhede Stadium, where batting, and especially batting second with the dew around, has been much more fruitful than in Chennai. As Padikkal said, "The Chennai and Mumbai wickets are completely different."
In Chennai, his futile attempts to pull had ended in catches at midwicket and deep midwicket. In Mumbai - with the ball coming on far better - just by the sound his bat was making on the ball, you could tell a connection was nothing but a massive six.
The gorgeous driven six over wide long-off to Mustafizur Rahman was a typical Padikkal treat but there was also the awareness of the field and the capacity to improvise on display. Three deliveries before that six in the same Mustafizur over, Padikkal, knowing fine leg was up, walked across the stumps, took a ball from outside off, and flicked it past that fielder for four.
Against spin in the middle overs, tellingly, there was more intent and better execution than last season. Rahul Tewatia was charged and deposited for a straight six, and promptly slog-swept next ball for six more. There was even a reverse-pull over short third man (!) off his Karnataka team-mate Shreyas Gopal, leading even Glenn Maxwell to remark after the game about how cleanly he was hitting such strokes.
In the entire last season, Padikkal had hit just eight sixes, albeit on the bigger grounds in the UAE. Yesterday alone, he hammered six of them, only one less than Royals managed in their entire innings.
By the halfway stage of the chase, Padikkal had already zoomed to 80 off 36. Wonder where he would have ended at had he batted in the same fashion for the full 20 overs.
We will surely have plenty of more opportunities to wonder what he could achieve in similar situations in the future. For this man had the confidence to tell Virat Kohli of all people that he didn't want to play for his hundred, because there will be "many more to come." And that, is a certainty.