Will the consistency of Robin Uthappa earn him a spot in Indian team?
The resurgence of Kolkata Knight Riders in the IPL after a tumultuous start to the Indian leg and an equally abysmal period in the Arab Emirates prior to that has been nothing less than spectacular. With the spinners turning it in their favor and Gautam Gambhir discovering form, it has been a promising comeback from the Knights. One of the foremost reasons behind these 4 consecutive wins has been the consistency of another man who has been striking gold ever since he began to open the batting for the Kolkata franchise.
The current IPL season has been a revelation for Robin Uthappa, who had done very little to impress the selectors in the last 5 years. Now given the opportunity of opening the batting with Gambhir, Uthappa seems determined to flick, cut and drive his way towards the Indian dressing room.
His smart exhibition of intelligent batsmanship and prudent shot selection has impressed all and sundry. His calm demeanor has been evident in the way he has handled pressure. In spite of wickets tumbling at the other end, Uthappa hasn’t compromised with his consistency and has almost always abided by the verified technicalities of the game, thereby offering very sparse chances to the opponents to claim his wicket.
The right-hander from Coorg had been one of the finest exponents of limited aggression during his tenure with the national team. However, as rough patches continued to haunt his career on an alarmingly frequent basis, he found himself ousted from the team in 2008 even before having debuted in Tests.
For the next few years Uthappa lagged behind while the likes of Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma and Suresh Raina consolidated their places in the Indian team. The appetite for returning to the field in national colors persuaded him to hire a personal coach and work on his technique.
He worked on his fitness, embraced various alterations in his initial movements and footwork and ensured a constructive influence of former India batsman Pravin Amre. The latter’s advice revitalized his aggressive approach and aided his renaissance in the domestic circuit.
During the Ranji Trophy, he managed to accumulate 374 runs in five matches regardless of recurring hamstring injuries as his state team went on to win the title. In the Vijay Hazare Trophy, he remained uniformly fluent while scoring 536 runs in eight matches and steering Karnataka to a historic domestic double.
He appears to have carried that form into the IPL as he continues to score effortlessly, flicking and driving on both the flanks even on slow and low wickets like Cuttack. In 11 matches so far, Uthappa has already garnered 422 runs at a remarkable average of 38.36 and is the leading run-scorer in the tournament behind Glenn Maxwell and Dwayne Smith. He has scored three half-centuries in the current season with the highest of 80 off 52 balls against Mumbai Indians and certainly looks well set for more.
Initially, KKR had opted for the tried-and-tested combination of Jacques Kallis and Gautam Gambhir at the top, thereby relegating Uthappa to the middle and lower middle order. However, a succession of pathetic performances by the apparently shallow batting order urged the Knights to assess their resources, the consequence of which promoted Uthappa to the top order.
The meticulously calculated maneuver earned rich dividends as the Gambhir-Uthappa pair put on four consecutive 50-run stands that allowed KKR back into the reckoning for a spot in the play-offs. Even when Gambhir failed to light the sparks, Uthappa continued to hold up the other end time and again.
An unruffled disposition and a penchant for scoring off the leg finds him ideally suited for the opener’s slot. Wristy surgical drives may elude him, but Uthappa’s precision and technical excellence makes him an artist of the finest caliber. While his masterful execution makes cricket look simple and elegant, it’s his temperament that defines his game.
It may appear premature to conclude, but Robin Uthappa may well be on route to script a mesmerizing comeback in national colors. With opening woes continuing to haunt the Indian team, Uthappa may be the man to offer the selectors much-needed respite. What remains to be seen is whether the timing of his peaking has been as immaculate and rewarding as that of his on-field strokes.