Robin Uthappa - The forgotten man of Indian cricket
The Karnataka batsman, Robin Uthappa, has become a forgotten figure in Indian cricket after just missing out on selection to the team for the past two years. The dynamic Royal Challengers Bangalore player, Lokesh Rahul, benefiting from a brilliant IPL season, has taken the opener and backup keeper in the team.
Uthappa, a senior figure for Karnataka in Ranji cricket and Kolkata Knight Riders in the IPL, hasn’t been able to stake a claim in the national side since going out of favour.
Uthappa started with a bang in international cricket, and showed immense calibre and maturity. He made his ODI debut for India in 2006, in the final ODI of the home series against England. A well compiled 86 on debut as opener underlined his potential in the big stage.
His crucial 50 in the T20 World Cup match against Pakistan in 2007 after walking in at 39/4 showed his cool-headed approach in any situation. The bowl out against the same opposition once again showed Uthappa's composure to the World.
The Walking Assassin
His thrilling batting in the NatWest series of 2007-08 where he hit a 33-ball 47 after coming in at no.7, is etched in the memory of most Indian fans. The tactic of putting off a pace bowler by walking up to him, started by Hayden, was pioneered by Uthappa in India.
It went on to become his trademark shot and something which sent the Indian fans berserk, like Dhoni's helicopter shot.
Uthappa's record in ODIs for India is mediocre; in 46 matches, he has averaged in the mid-20s. But he was thrown around the batting order mercilessly and has batted in almost all positions till no.7 in the ODIs he played. A lack of continuity in his batting position may have contributed to his poor performances.
His IPL performances for Kolkata have given the team solid starts at the top of the order. In the company of Gautam Gambhir, Uthappa has had great performances in the IPL which came while opening the innings.
A possible comeback
It is now certain that the Indian ODI team will take a different form as the MS Dhoni-era is in its fag end. The ODI team, however, has few vacancies, with the opening slot still not settled. Rohit Sharma is the first-choice opener, thanks to his incredible hitting, recently, while Lokesh Rahul, Ajinkya Rahane, and Shikhar Dhawan are all in and around in the 15 member ODI squad. That Rahul can also do a backup keeping job does not bode well for Uthappa.
If Uthappa needs to make a comeback to the ODI side, it may not be the opening slot. The lower middle order seems to have a vacancy as India are on the lookout for a good finisher. Uthappa may not get the job, but he is definitely capable of it. His spectacular composure in the 43* in the NatWest ODI in 2007-08 stands as testimony to this fact. Though a lot of youngsters are vying to inherit that finisher role from Dhoni, Uthappa is not a far-fetched option.
The Karnataka man does possess the ability to rotate strike and keep himself busy while switching to a more attacking mode should also not pose a problem. A strike-rate of 135.28 in IPL 2016, albeit as an opener, does no do harm to his reputation and in fact, aids his bid for a finisher’s role.
IPL and Domestic heroics
Kolkata Knight Riders had struggled in the first three editions of the IPL, despite boasting some big names. But the arrival of Uthappa from Bangalore and Gambhir's elevation to captaincy changed scenarios completely. The franchise won the 2014 trophy, and Robin Uthappa was the highest scorer of the tournament. Opening the batting and taking on the wicket-keeping mitts, he has provided a balance to the side.
Notably, Uthappa has corrected the mistakes that caused his ouster from the Indian team. From a player who used to throw his wicket away after settling in, Uthappa has looked anything but that for KKR. While his recall to the limited over squads in the Zimbabwe tour in 2015 looked like he was back, a woeful outing in the three ODIs overshadowed a couple of decent performances in the T20s.
His spectacular form in the 2014-15 Ranji Trophy helped Karnataka to the title. 912 runs in 19 matches at an average of 50.66 showed Uthappa still has it in him. Another fine streak of runs had gone down the drain. In the 2014 IPL, he had 10 consecutive innings of 40-plus scores.
But all that was forgotten with his three failures against Zimbabwe.
The forgotten man is likely to find it tough to return to the setup, partly due to his age and partly due to the emergence of Rahul, who pretty much does everything Uthappa is capable of doing.
He entertained while in his prime, but is the prime done yet? Probably not. But, how many similar players can India bring in? A problem of plenty might mean the 'Show Man' of Indian cricket has had his time.