IPL 2020: Devdutt Padikkal and Sanju Samson flying the flag for Kerala in the UAE

Indian batsmen have provided the highlights of the first week of the tournament

Sanju Samson of RR plays a shot during match 4 of season 13 of the Indian Premier League (IPL) between Rajasthan Royals 
and Chennai Super Kings held at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium, Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates on the 24th September 2020.  Photo by: Rahul Gulati  / Sportzpics for BCCI

After taking the catch that won the 2007 World T20 for India against Pakistan, Sreesanth received a message that captured the mood of a proud Indian state.

Misbah-ul-Haq, the Pakistan batsman, thought he had spotted a gap down to fine leg, to score the winning runs off Joginder Sharma.

Instead, he scooped the ball straight into the hands of the Kerala-born fast bowler.

“Misbah forgot that in every corner of the world there is a Malayali,” went the message to Sreesanth.

Even in a cricket tournament where fans are locked out, Keralites seem to be everywhere. And they are thriving, too.

Two of the outstanding performances from the opening few days of the 2020 IPL were by Kerala-born players.

First, Devdutt Padikkal announced himself as one of the brightest prospects in the game with a vintage debut for Royal Challengers Bangalore.

Then Sanju Samson blitzed the Chennai Super Kings bowlers while batting for Rajasthan Royals in Sharjah.

Now it seems as though the popular trope needs amending to: “If you want score runs in IPL, you have to speak Malayalam.”

Although the vast Keralite population of the UAE are – like everyone else – unable to see their heroes live in the flesh, they are still proud of their feats so far.

“It means a lot to us,” said CP Rizwan, the UAE national team batsman who was born in Tellicherry in Kerala.

“There are a lot of people from Kerala who like cricket a lot.

“People from Kerala, when they reach the Gulf, they are so sincere and work hard. Seeing these guys doing so well like this really makes us proud.

“The way Sanju performed against one of the best sides in the IPL was really heart-warming to see.”

Devdutt Padikkal of Royal Challengers Bangalore batting during match 3 of season 13 Dream 11 Indian Premier League (IPL) between Sunrisers Hyderabad and Royal Challengers Bangalore held at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium, Dubai in the United Arab Emirates on the 21st September 2020.  Photo by: Saikat Das  / Sportzpics for BCCI

Rizwan grew up in the UAE and represents the country at cricket, but was briefly part of the same Kerala Ranji Trophy squad as Samson.

“From the age of 15, people used to rate him as a prodigy,” Rizwan said.

He recalls a tour to South Africa with the Kerala squad when Samson revealed his talent in much the same fashion as he has been doing in the IPL.

“In the second innings, he was batting on 97,” Rizwan said.

“Normally from that position, you will just try to complete a hundred. But he stepped out to an off-spinner, and hit them into the road.

“We were all like, ‘Wow’. He was 17 at the time. It landed in the road. A six out of the ground. It was amazing.

“But, more than his talent, what used to amaze us was his work ethic. He would be the first guy at practice, and the last guy to leave.

“His father used to bring him two hours before everyone else so they could practice. Because of that work ethic, I’m not surprised to see him doing well.”

Steve Smith captain of Rajasthan Royals and Sanju Samson of Rajasthan Royals during match 4 of season 13 of the Dream 11 Indian Premier League (IPL) between Rajasthan Royals and Chennai Super Kings held at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium, Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates on the 22nd September 2020.
Photo by: Deepak Malik  / Sportzpics for BCCI

To say he is doing well is sort of understating it. Even Steve Smith, the Australian great, said he had to defer to his young colleague when they were batting together for Rajasthan in Sharjah.

“He played incredibly well - it felt like everything he was hitting was going for six,” Smith, Rajasthan’s captain, said.

“We knew we needed to score big runs, and that’s the way Sanju plays. He takes the game on.

“He hit some seriously good sixes, and had some positive intent. My role in that partnership was to get him on strike.

“I wanted to get down the other end and let him do his thing.”

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - Reporter: Paul Radley. Sport. Cricket. Sharjah's CP Rizwan before the game between ECB Blues and Sharjah in the Emirates D10. Thursday, July 30th, 2020. Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Rizwan had his own moment of Sharjah-based cricket fame recently, when a video of him hitting sixes at the UAE’s oldest cricket venue went viral online, via ESPNcricinfo.

The 32-year-old UAE player said he sent Samson the clip, and told him that was what he had to do when he got to Sharjah for the IPL. He was clearly paying attention.

“We actually had a conversation about it before,” Rizwan said.

“I shared that video with him and I told him, ‘This year, you will rock in Sharjah’.

“He liked the video, and said he was looking forward to playing in Sharjah. From the first match there, he rocked.”