When Robin Uthappa was traded to Chennai Super Kings (CSK) from Rajasthan Royals (RR) ahead of the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2021 auction, questions were raised about yet another aging cricketer joining the MS Dhoni-led franchise.
IPL 2020 was a disaster for CSK. They failed to qualify for the knockouts for the first time, and there was a call for younger stars to be brought in to replace a core that was deemed past its prime.
Uthappa, at 35, was not seen as a solution to their problems, and the IPL veteran did, indeed, spend most of the season on the bench.
Coming into CSK’s Qualifier 1 matchup against Delhi Capitals, Uthappa had only played two matches this season. In fact, he only got a chance after Suresh Raina suffered a knee injury ahead of the last two league matches.
Used at no.4, Uthappa managed only 21 runs in two matches before the crucial knockout tie. When CSK lost opener Faf du Plessis early in their chase of 173 against DC, it was a surprise when he walked in at one-down instead of Moeen Ali, who had done well in that role so far this season.
At the other end, Uthappa had Ruturaj Gaikwad, the dashing young opener who had stolen all the limelight for CSK this season with his consistent brilliance. Up against him was one of the best pace attacks in the IPL.
But the right-hander from Karnataka showed just why he has been such a cherished player in the league. His brilliant knock helped steady the ship for CSK and took them to their ninth IPL final.
Gaikwad was made to play second fiddle as Uthappa brought out his range of strokes and took the attack to DC.
Uthappa hit seven boundaries and cleared the fence twice as he smashed 63 off 44 deliveries.
It was an emotional knock too for Uthappa, as it came on his son's fourth birthday, prompting a 'Spiderman' celebration after he reached his fifty -- his 25th in the IPL.
He was finally caught at long-on by Shreyas Iyer off Tom Curran, but he had done the damage he needed to do. CSK were eventually taken to the finish line by Gaikwad, who hit 70 off 50, and then MS Dhoni, who hit three boundaries in the final over to finish the chase in style.
Robin Uthappa makes his experience count
Robin Uthappa is one of the most experienced players in the IPL, and among the most prolific run-scorers.
Uthappa impressed for various teams from 2008-2013 before he was snapped up by Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR), for whom he scored 660 runs in 2014 as they romped to the title.
With 4691 runs in tournament history, Uthappa is the ninth-highest run-getter in the IPL, and the sixth among Indians.
He scored more than 350 runs in every season he played for KKR, except for his last. In 2018, his run-tally was 282, following which he was released and made his move to the Royals.
A disappointing season with Rajasthan meant he was written off. He then joined CSK, and the seasoned campaigner showed why signing him was yet another shrewd move by the three-time IPL champions.
Dhoni persisted with Uthappa in a key knockout match despite two failures with the bat, and he repaid the faith shown in him with a crucial knock at a crucial time.
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Gaikwad will be remembered for his player of the match performance and the game will be remembered as yet another MS Dhoni masterclass in white-ball finishing, but Robin Uthappa made sure to remind the world that he is not done and dusted just yet.