Paul Valthaty may not inspire much confidence when he trudges in to bat - no funky haircut and no flashy bling on show at the glitzy, celebrity- centred Indian Premier League. But the 27-year-old is still commanding the loudest cheer from fans and utmost respect from critics, thanks to his explosive show in the Twenty20 tournament so far.
Valthaty is enjoying his time under the sun as one of India's little-known players who have been stealing the thunder from international stars at the fourth edition of the cash-rich tournament.
"No one has shone brighter than Valthaty, easily the star of the tournament after his brilliant performances," said former India captain Anil Kumble. "He has suddenly caught the eye and could well be here to stay, at least in the limited-over format."
Valthaty's rise to stardom from obscurity has the feel of a fairytale. He was picked by Kings XI Punjab as a backup to expensive international buys at a player auction in January this year. When skipper Adam Gilchrist came out to open the innings with Valthaty against reigning champions Chennai in Mohali, it looked a risky move. More so because Punjab were chasing an imposing 189 and Valthaty's previous three innings had yielded only 12 runs. But what unfolded before a packed stadium and those watching the game on television, would remain etched for a long time in the memory for the sheer class of the act. Valthaty unleashed stylish, copybook shots on either side of the wicket to race to 120 off just 63 balls with 19 fours and two sixes.
The stunning counter-attack by the hitherto unheard of player, forced a wry smile from Chennai and India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni. "We have to learn the lessons from this game. Valthaty was brilliant and he really took the game away from us," said Dhoni. Valthaty went on to prove his knock the other day was no flash in pan. Up against Deccan, he grabbed four wickets with medium-pace bowling to restrict Deccan to 165 and then struck a blazing 75 to steer his team to victory.
His dream run continued in the next game against Rajasthan, scoring a quickfire 46 and sharing 67 runs off just 26 balls with Gilchrist to set the platform for a comprehensive 48-run win. The genial batsman has now leapfrogged to the top of IPL batting charts with 247 runs ahead of superstar Sachin Tendulkar (236).
Gilchrist predicted it won't be long before Valthaty breaks into the Indian team. "It is quite extra-ordinary the way he has played," said the wicketkeeper-batsman. "His performance has been of the highest class. "He is very calm, very controlled and that is a great thing for our franchise. Hopefully, that should help him progress and achieve higher honours."
Valthaty, whose three older sisters and mother are all doctors, could have achieved recognition earlier but for an eye injury sustained during the Under-19 World Cup in New Zealand in 2002. He remained in wilderness despite recovering fully and could not even get a chance to play a first-class game, but Valthaty did not give up hope.
"Cricket was all I knew. Any extra motivation was not needed," says Valthaty, by his own admission a reluctant talker.
"My dream has not been fulfilled yet, there is still a long way to go!"