There were times in the last IPL season that Devdutt Padikkal looked tired. He belonged at this level. The purity of his shots made that very clear. But there were improvements to be made.
Well, on Thursday's evidence, we might already be looking at an all-new player. Padikkal pummelled 101 off 52 balls at a strike-rate of 194.23. And he didn't even break a sweat.
"It was an outstanding innings," his captain Virat Kohli said at the presentation, after the Royal Challengers Bangalore completed a ten-wicket win at the Rajasthan Royals' expense. "He batted really well for his first season last time around as well. Bit of talk about him accelerating after getting 30 and 40. This is exactly how you put things to rest. To be honest, the pitch was great to bat on but he did pick the right areas to hit and once he got going he was almost impossible to stop him."
Covid-19 had tried to stop him. Padikkal had contracted the disease at the start of the tournament and it ruled him out of the Royal Challengers' opener. A young player hates to miss any cricket for any reason. So it's no surprise he is looking to make the most of every second he has out in the middle.
"To be honest, it's been special," Padikkal said at the presentation. "All I could do was wait my turn. When I was down with Covid, all I could think of was coming here and playing the first match and the fact that I wasn't able to do that really hurt me and I really wanted to be out there for the team. The fact that the next two games I was able to contribute [with 11 and 25] and now... Just wanted the team to win at the end of the day. So that's what I was looking to do."
The Royals tried everything. The right-arm pace and bounce of Chris Morris. The left-arm pace and guile of Mustafizur Rahman. The legspin of Shreyas Gopal and Rahul Tewatia. All of them came second best to an innings of pure, unrelenting class.
Now the Wankhede Stadium is no place for a bowler. Especially one trying to defend a total. But that isn't Padikkal's problem. He's already had to deal with the other end of this equation, batting on Chennai's slow turners in the previous games. He gritted his teeth then. He's baring them now.
That was on clear display in the fifth over of the chase, when Mustafizur presented a perfectly good length ball, pitching on off stump looking to hit the top of middle. But because Padikkal is so tall, his front foot takes him closer to the ball and he can meet it on the rise. If other batters try what he did, they might have found the ball getting big on them. That straight six was probably the best shot of his innings. And all he had to do to make it happen was take a step forward. Padikkal's reach is going to confuse many more bowling attacks.
Kohli believes as much too. "The bowlers can't pitch it short. He can clip balls for six. He can pull it for six. Great talent. Great one to watch out for in the future and tonight I had the best seat in the house and thoroughly enjoyed his innings."
With a maiden IPL hundred in sight, the captain and a rookie who is fast coming of age had a fun little chat. "He said finish it off," Kohli recalled. "I said no I'm going to keep putting you back on strike. He said many more to come. I said I'll say that to you when you get the first one.
"It was very important for him to cross that milestone. Getting three-figures in a tournament like this early on is a different ball game altogether. I want him to build from here; build further on and really help the team and I think he deserved to get a hundred tonight. I mean, the way he batted, strike-rate of almost 200. Flawless innings completely."