One person's misfortune could well be an opportunity for another man. Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) opener Devdutt Padikkal testing positive for COVID-19 could open the way for Kerala wicketkeeper-batsman Mohammed Azharuddeen's entry into the playing eleven in IPL 2021.
RCB take on defending champions Mumbai Indians in the inaugural match at the M A Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai on Friday.
Padikkal was one of the standout performers for RCB in IPL 2020. The Karnataka left-hander scored 473 runs in 15 matches in his debut season, averaging 31.53 and scoring five half-centuries. He was also the highest run-getter for RCB.
He was in superb form in the recent Vijay Hazare Trophy one-day competition, aggregating 737 runs at 147.4 from seven matches. The 20-year-old was second only to Prithvi Shaw (827 runs in eight matches) in the list of run-getters.
Padikkal is likely to miss RCB's first few matches and as a result Azhar could feature in the strong batting line-up. The 27-year-old from Kasaragod made a brilliant hundred against Mumbai in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy T20 championship. His 53-ball unbeaten 137 set up Kerala's thumping eight-wicket win at the Wankhede.
His 37-ball hundred was the second fastest in Mushtaq Ali Trophy and joint-third fastest ton by an Indian in T20 format behind Rishabh Pant (32 balls) and Rohit Sharma (35 balls). Yusuf Pathan too had scored a hundred for Rajasthan Royals off just 37 balls against Mumbai Indians in IPL 2010.
Azhar was snapped up by RCB for his base price of Rs 20 lakh in February's player auction. He had revealed that it's his big dream to bat alongside RCB skipper Virat Kohli. Azhar can also play in the middle order if needed.
Kohli has made it clear that he would open the innings this IPL. Azhar is an aggressive player by nature and he could make the most of the Powerplay of six overs. It would also mean that Kohli could play himself in without taking much risk. With the dangerous duo of AB de Villiers and Glenn Maxwell in their ranks, RCB batting line-up will be hard to contain as Kohli & Co. chase their maiden IPL crown.
Azhar could well be one of the stars in his maiden IPL season.