A prolific season culminating in an unforgettable IPL outing has helped Robin Uthappa join the Men in Blue
A blistering bat and an inner scrutiny, have constantly defined Robin Uthappa. The wide range of his shots has often matched the depth of his introspective bouts and after every such encounter with the ‘man in the mirror’; Uthappa has emerged stronger as an individual and hungrier as a batsman.
In a roller-coaster life that has belied its 28 summers, Uthappa is now riding a wave. The Karnataka opener’s excellent show with the champion - Kolkata Knight Riders - in this season’s IPL, helped him wrest the ‘Orange Cap’ for being the highest run-getter (660). The rewards were instantaneous as even before KKR took on the Kings XI Punjab in the final, Uthappa was already picked for the Indian squad that will play three ODIs in Bangladesh, this month. An elated Uthappa said: “I always knew I had the ability and game to make the comeback. I worked hard towards refining my game, plugged the gaps in my technique. There is a sense of determination and a sense of belief now.”
Uthappa, who first played for India in 2006, has been an intermittent presence with the national team. A truth reflected in a mere 38 ODIs and 11 Twenty20 internationals played over an eight year period that had long absences away from M.S. Dhoni’s team. The latest return though is a tribute to his constant endeavour to improve both as a player and as a person while also drawing enormous strength from his inner circle of pals in which girlfriend and former tennis player Sheethl Gautham, played a prominent role.
Just like his latest evolutionary phase shaped by having a personal batting coach in former India player Pravin Amre, Uthappa has forever questioned himself and refused to back down even when some of the answers were not flattering. As a school kid, slightly on the heavier side, Uthappa donned the wicket-keeping gloves besides having a biff with the bat while representing St. Josephs. Adolescence and acne also ushered in hard queries about his self-image and the Coorgi lad cut shot on his traditional cuisine that hinged a lot on pork.
He lost weight, sharpened his shots and it was just a matter of time before he noticed by former India captain Dilip Vengsarkar, who was then heading the BCCI’s talent resource development wing. Uthappa was fast-tracked into the Indian limited overs' squad and he did make an early impression.
Uthappa was part of the Indian team that won the inaugural ICC World Twenty20 at South Africa in 2007. Somehow the start was frittered away while Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir reiterated their credentials atop the batting order. But there was more to it than meets the eye as parental discord back home, scalded Uthappa.
He continued to do well for Karnataka, even briefly donned the skipper’s mantle, a designation he sought for himself.
“I walked up to Brijesh (Patel, KSCA secretary) and said that I wanted to lead the side,” Uthappa once said. And while personal issues bogged him down, he found refuge in his belief in Jesus Christ.
Later, he again grappled with the stigma of being over-weight.
He consulted Sheethl, roped in a dietician, monitored what he ate, worked out, cut the flab, got Amre as his personal coach and just focussed on excelling for whichever team he played for, be it Karnataka or KKR. He also found a balance between his innate aggression and the extreme caution that Amre drilled into him as part of a bid to stay long at the crease.
Karnataka’s winning streak in domestic cricket that helped nail the Ranji Trophy, Zal Irani Cup and Deodhar Trophy, also offered more opportunities for Uthappa to catch the selectors’ eye. The runs with KKR further vindicated what Sandeep Patil and company felt about the opener. The ticket to Dhaka, seems another start for Uthappa and from the looks of it, he wants to hold onto it with his dear life.