10 years ago Robin Uthappa was on the cusp of something special. With the Fab Four of Indian cricket in the twilight of their careers, Uthappa was one among the next generation of batting superstars looking to cement themselves in the starting eleven. His 86 on debut against England in Indore was the highest ever score by an Indian debutant in the limited overs format. He followed it up with some solid performances, most notably against England at the Oval where his 47 run 33 ball cameo helped India chase down a mammoth 316 to level the series. The future looked bright. But in the decade since, he has only represented India 46 times in ODIs and and 13 times in T20Is.
Born in Kodagu, Karnataka to a Christian mother and Hindu father, Uthappa continually showed signs of fulfilling his potential from a very young age itself. The first time I came across his name was in the newspaper in 2004. Though to be honest it was his partner that caught my attention more. Uthappa and Rowland Barrington had just shared a mammoth 324 run opening stand. Barrington made 283 in the end, and Uthappa contributed 162. Over the next few years the name Barrington faded but Uthappa kept cropping up. Going from strength to strength it was just a question of when and not if he got his big break.
That came in the Challenger Trophy when he made a brilliant 66 in a losing cause for India B against India A in Mumbai in 2005 against an attack that included Zaheer Khan, Murali Kartik and RP Singh. He got a chance to represent India in ODIs and played some valuable knocks.
He was also a member of MS Dhoni’s youthful squad that travelled to South Africa in 2007 and emerged victorious, memorably taking part in the first ever bowl-out vs Pakistan where he was given the task of hitting the stumps though he was a specialist batsman at the time. But 2008 was a rough year. 179 runs in 11 ODIs just wasn’t good enough to be part of an Indian side just bursting with batting talent.
Wrong Era maybe?
Many people have said that Rahul Dravid would have got more recognition if he was not born in the same era as Sachin Tendulkar. But at least he got to represent India for more than a decade, carving out a career worthy of his outstanding talent. Spare a thought for poor Uthappa. As a wicketkeeper he could not get into the squad as that position was firmly held by captain MSD and in the opening batsman slots we had arguably the best pair in the world of Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag. Getting a look in was hard in the late 2000s and whenever he got a game he ended up batting in the lower order as a pinch hitter. Uthappa was always a treat to watch, with his aggressive strokeplay and and willingness to take the aerial route. He had all the shots in the book and even some new ones. And this was part of the reason he was dropped. It was deemed that he could not temper his cricket so as to go the distance in international cricket.
Domestic Toils and Success
A dejected Uthappa returned to Karnataka and toiled through the Ranji Trophy. The advent of the IPL in 2008 was a huge blessing for all cricketers in India. And Uthappa thrived in this new setting. First turning out for the Mumbai Indians and then the Royal Challengers Bangalore, Uthappa played the role of both a solid opening batsman and a lower order finisher. He was then purchased by the Sahara Pune Warriors for an astonishing INR 9.4 crores in their first season and even though the team didn’t perform up to scratch Uthappa continued to pile on the runs. But success in the longer format eluded him.
Seeking out Amre
Wanting to make his game more complete he sought out Pravin Amre to help break down and rebuild his batting. He was willing to make the changes asked and he recognised that he could take his game to the next level. In Amre, he found the perfect guide. And yes, the Mumbai stalwart taught the Karnataka hotshot the importance of reining instinct in. This was probably the turning point in his career. In the past few years Uthappa has accumulated a mountain of runs both in the IPL and the Ranji Trophy. He won the Orange cap in the 2014 IPL for the Kolkata Knight Riders, piling up 660 runs in just 15 games. This included a run of 8 successive scores of 40+ in a row, creating a new T20 record. He ended up with a 40+ in 11 out of his 15 games at the top of the batting order.
Add to that He now has a leadership role as one of the senior pros in Karnataka’s juggernaut-like march through two seasons winning every single trophy in the Indian Domestic circuit. In the last two seasons of the Ranji Trophy, he has scored over 1600 runs at an average of over 54, finishing as highest run scorer in the 2014-15 season. Surrounded by talents like Manish Pandey, KL Rahul and Karun Nair, Uthappa has been at the forefront of one of the mightiest batting lineups in domestic cricket.
No call ups?
The only missing ingredient is the opportunity to have a long run with the Indian team. He has now proven himself in all formats in the domestic circuit and has been knocking on the door of the Indian team for some time now but has never managed to get a look in. He has ticked every box possible and yet his luck has never held. With over 8000 first class runs and over 5000 T20 runs you could very easily make a case of Uthappa to get his shot in the Indian lineup.
Edit: KL Rahul beat Uthappa’s 86 on debut by scoring a 100 against Zimbabwe a couple of days ago. I’m claiming that jinx 😛