It isn't common for Indian cricket to produce a hard-hitting batsman who is conventional in his strokeplay and yet has the ability to play shots out of the book. For the nation that saw the emergence of some of the great batting artists like Sunil Gavaskar, Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid, it couldn't come up with a talent who could be moulded to the team's requirements anytime and at any place.
However, just when the hopes were down and the efforts of the national board's search were beginning to be questioned, arrived the man with skills totally alien to the Indian fans.
Robin Uthappa, a well-built lad from Karnataka was making the headlines in 2005 for his performances in the domestic circuit. He was born in Kodagu in Karnataka to a Christian mother and Hindu father.
He was educated at Sri Bhagawan Mahaveer Jain College in Bangalore. His mother Roselyn is a Malayali. His father, Venu Uthappa, a former hockey umpire is a Kodava Hindu. He is married to his long-time girlfriend Sheetal Gautham.
The batsman came into the spotlight after making a gritty 66 for India B against India A in a Challenger Trophy match in Mumbai. Although his team went on to lose that match, the national board was surprised to see a 19-year old taking the attack to an experienced pack of bowlers which included the likes of Zaheer Khan, Murali Karthik and RP Singh. In Mohali in 2006, he smashed his way to a 93-ball 100 for India B against an India A team in the subsequent edition of the same tournament.
The Indian selectors wasted no time in drafting the dashing right-hand batsman as they were taken for a ride by a rare talent that they had never witnessed before. The reward was a place in the Indian team for the ODI series against England in 2006.
The right-hander had to wait for the final ODI to make his debut and the man he replaced in the team was no ordinary cricketer - Virender Sehwag. The pressure was on the 20-year old to justify his selection not just for making it to the Indian team, but for replacing someone with the calibre of Sehwag.
Uthappa went on to make 86 on his debut, which served as a platform for his international career. It was a dream start considering the fact that he was young and was looking to break into an Indian team that was filled with immense talent. He made full use of the occasional chances that he got since his debut and was rewarded with a spot in the Indian squad for the 2007 World Cup in West Indies. The World Cup didn't turn out be an interesting affair for him and the team as the Indians were knocked out in the group stages itself.
Just when the critics started to circle around, the big-hitter made a strong statement during the sixth ODI of the Natwest series against England in 2007. He went on to make a crucial 47 to take the Indians home and keep the series alive.
By now the world had witnessed what Uthappa was capable of. His fearless attitude combined with a calm and clear head made him one of the most exciting prospects to watch out for. The young lad was rewarded again with a berth in the team for the inaugural edition of the T20 World Cup in South Africa.
Uthappa chipped in with some crucial knocks in the T20 World Cup and showed the signs of a future star. His 50 run knock against Pakistan in one of the matches was hailed by the Indian fans as it came in at a time when the team was tottering at 39/4. With this, he became the first Indian to score a 50 in a T20 international match. India subsequently won the match in a bowl out 3–0, where he bowled one of the three deliveries that hit the stumps.
Loss of form and subsequent resurgence
However, his form dipped after the Asia Cup in 2008 and with the rise of some of the young blood, Uthappa was overlooked by the selectors. He returned to domestic circuit and also played all the editions of the IPL since its inception in 2008. He has represented Mumbai Indians, Royal Challengers Bangalore, Sahara Pune Warriors and is currently playing for Kolkata Knight Riders.
In 2013-14, he had a superb domestic season with Karnataka completing a treble of the Ranji Trophy, Irani Cup and Vijay Hazare Trophy. Uthappa followed that up with an outstanding IPL in 2014, in which he scored 40 or more in eleven successive innings, breaking Mathew Hayden's record of eight and was the leading run-scorer of the tournament.
This saw him make a comeback into the Indian team for the tour to Bangladesh for the ODI series in 2014, where he made one fifty in a series of rain-interrupted matches. Uthappa couldn't hold onto the spot following a modest tour of Zimbabwe in July-August 2015. However, he had a fantastic 2014-15 Ranji season ending up as the highest run-getter of the season.
His ramp shot against England in 2007, the walking smack over the bowler's head and his improvised batting were a delight to watch for the Indians. Though the batsman has often shown the signs of a rare commodity who juggles between being conventional and witty at times, Uthappa has been hard done by the lack of opportunities. It would be fair to say that the national selectors, in their impatient quest for unearthing new talents, lost a gem who could have redefined the art of stroke making in cricket.