CRICKET Rejuvenated by a good season where he spelt runs and assurance atop the batting order, Robin Uthappa believes that the current year will usher in a new path
Vivacity was innate in Robin Uthappa. The lofted shots signed off with a flourish; the endless chatter within ear-shot of rival batsmen; and the indelible image of him doffing his cap and making an exaggerated bow after helping India survive a bowl-out against Pakistan in the 2007 ICC World Twenty20 in South Africa, are all part of his emerging personality.
That spirit of enjoyment is very much intact but he has turned quieter over the last year. While seeking to travel long in his career, Uthappa has gone on an inward journey, asking hard questions on the way he approached life after he hit the high notes. Introspection was the theme, be it in his trysts with cricket or during the minor breaks he took alone in Belgium and Singapore.
The me-time has obviously worked and a fit and focused Uthappa has done exceedingly well this domestic season. He scored 683 runs in the Ranji Trophy and was Karnataka’s second-highest run-getter behind C.M. Gautam (943). During the K.S. Subbaiah Pillai Trophy South Zone limited overs tournament in Goa, Uthappa’s scores read 169, 54, 49, 103 and 50! He may not have extended that prolific run in the All India Vijay Hazare Trophy tournament at Visakhapatnam but there was no mistaking his return to consistency.
The change started last season when Uthappa sat down and thought aloud: “What is the one thing I can change within myself? Obviously the way I look, my weight.” Having battled distractions and yet managing to string runs for Karnataka, Uthappa had at last found his conviction. His best friend, tennis player Sheetal Gautam, egged him on to lose weight and stay disciplined. A dietician was roped in and exercises were streamlined. “I began to respect my body, accepted what I have been through, went off Facebook and Twitter, made cricket my entire universe and I lost 17 kilos. I knew in the earlier phase I did not give my 100 per cent to the game and then I made up my mind to give my 120 per cent,” Uthappa says.
Before this season, Uthappa did something unique. He hired former India batsman Praveen Amre as his personal coach. Recalling the move, Uthappa says: “I always had a rapport with him during my stints with the Pune Warriors in the Indian Premier League and one day we decided to take it forward. We made it a professional equation. I know I am a good striker of the ball but I also knew that my basics were not tight and that my bottom-hand dominated my shots. I had to unlearn a lot under him. Then I used to take breaks and come back and see if the muscle-memory of my shots had changed. I was like a novice under him and I learnt a lot. And when I started this Ranji season, people thought I had become too slow as a batsman but for me it was all part of a process. I wanted to get my shots right, I drew pleasure in the simple art of timing the ball instead of whacking it with all my strength.”
Besides working on his game, Uthappa also had to deftly ear-mark his coaching zones. Amre was his personal coach but with Karnataka, he had to report to batting coach J. Arun Kumar.
“We maintained a strictly professional set-up. Yes Praveen would work with me during the pre-season and he would also drop in and watch my matches but he never stepped into the dressing room. He would share his views either before the match or after the game but never came to the Karnataka nets. The Karnataka State Cricket Association and JAK (Arun Kumar) were very sweet about the whole thing. They understood that this is something that I had to do to become a better cricketer and we ensured that we did not tread on others’ toes,” Uthappa says.
The opener is now dreaming about another stint with the Indian team. “I do believe that I can open in Tests and that is a huge dream. Don’t they say, when you desire something with all your heart, the entire universe conspires to help you along the way?,” he says while the tattoo ‘I Am’ - a strong hint about his self-esteem and unwavering belief – glimmers on his arm.
At 27, Uthappa has finally accepted that what he does as a cricketer will define the rest of his life. That refreshing awareness will surely help him along the way.
K.C. VIJAYA KUMAR