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Robin Uthappa – The new soldier in Dravid’s Army

Robin Uthappa KarnatakaGetting selected for the Indian Team isn’t that difficult these days with the Team Management and the Selection Committee on a constant search for fresh talented players who can easily fit into the roles they specify.

The present day young players are getting plenty of coverage in the media on a regular basis and plenty of opportunities to play in important tournaments that get televised. Lots of satellite channels have cropped up in the recent years and each of them has done their bit in acquiring the rights for broadcasting some tournament or the other. The U19 World Cups in particular have been shown in an extravagant manner as any other International Tournament would have been. The case of the India U19 players making it to the Indian Senior Side rapidly and getting selected without much of first class experience has been large over the years. There have been a number of players who got selected to the Indian Team largely due to their U19 performance and it’s a long list that includes the likes of Yuvraj Singh, Mohammad Kaif, Ajay Ratra, Parthiv Patel, Dinesh Karthik etc to the present day Suresh Raina, RP Singh, Piyush Chawla, Robin Uthappa and many more.

Although the U19 rookies, who have been selected to the Indian team are all talented, sometimes they get an undue advantage of getting their performances seen by millions of people on a larger screen often overtaking the players who have been toiling hard in the Domestic Circuit for a long time and who have got the runs and wickets consistently. Hemang Badani, Sridharan Sriram, Pankaj Dharmani, Hrishikesh Kanitkar, NP Singh of Hyderabad, MSK Prasad and an incredible number of players have all been confined playing for just their states and zones in the Ranji Trophy and Duleep Trophies. MSK Prasad is one person who has shared his views on this same topic that the successful first class cricketers do not get the same kind of recognition as these U19 guys get. Rare exceptions to this must be Wasim Jaffer and Ramesh Powar who got back into the side with the sheer weight of their strong performances in the domestic circuit.

No one would have expected Robin Uthappa to have made it to the Indian Side so soon and that too with a moderate average of over 30 in first class cricket. Looks like the Selectors have some criteria for selecting the players, the first one being that the player must be within his early twenties, he should have a sparkling talent, he should be a fielder who can cover lots of ground quickly and to pick him in the side, just one or two brilliant performances are required. It’s the temperament too that seems to have come naturally to some of these young players who are so unfazed of playing against the top players of the world and imagine these rookies playing against arch rivals Pakistan without any signs of pressure. Coming back to Robin Uthappa, he is the new kid on the block who has the temperament and the sparkling talent to succeed at the International Level and he is the man I am focusing on in this article.

A couple of years back in December 2003, I was asked by my colleague to go to the Gymkhana Grounds and interview a young player named Robin Uthappa. My colleague had told me that here is a promising young opening batsman who would make his way into the Indian Team one day. It was also my first ever interview in my career and might also be the first one of Robin’s. Karnataka was playing Hyderabad in a Ranji Trophy match and the visitors had players like Venkatesh Prasad, Sunil Joshi and Dodda Ganesh, but I was there waiting for a man who I didn’t know how he would look like and that was Robin who was introduced to me by the team manager. The interview was planned to be taken in Hotel Taj Belsons and Robin Uthappa looked to have this feeling of ‘interviewing me? I am not that big now’. But he was smooth in the way he was talking and he had this glow in his eyes and the confidence that he would play for Team India soon, but for that he has to cement his place in the Karnataka Ranji Side to begin with. One of the questions, I had asked Robin was how he was going to handle the situation, if he had to open the innings for India and with crores of people glued to the match on their television sets. And for that, Robin Uthappa had a smile…”what… you are kidding…it’s a long way to go still for me’”. I didn’t put this Q&A in the edited interview but Robin Uthappa has answered that question on the 15th of April in 2006, where he had smashed the English bowlers all over the Maharani Usharaje Trust Ground for a scintillating 86. That was no fluke innings as he was up against four pacers who were bowling consistently above 140kmph. Add to the fact that Robin’s innings was while chasing a reasonably high target of 289!

Robin Uthappa’s batting is simple; to begin with he has the temperament which allows him to concentrate on his game in the middle rather than crumbling to the fear of failure. He does seem to have that extra bit of time when he is up against the pacers and although he does look a bit shaky against the short stuff, he is just fine in countering them. An interesting shot that he plays is the hook shot that he has played with reasonable success in some of his best innings whether it was against England or whether it was against the Indian quicks in the Challenger Trophy. Once he picks the length of the short one quickly, his hook shot comes out which looks like he is using the pace of the bowler and helping it well over fine leg for a six with the middle of his blade. Robin is a strong lad with broad shoulders and he is a natural lofter of the cricket ball. Once he is in the crease for a considerable amount of time, a long off and a long on is a must as this dashing batsman looks out to loft anything that is pitched up on the goodlength regions. Like any Indian batsman, he is also very strong on his legs and its always easy pickings when the bowler drifts onto his legs. Uthappa has also shown that he is not afraid of using his feet to the spinners and lofting them often and in the end succeeding in spoiling the length that they bowl. All in all as he keeps on working with the best people in the game on his batting and with constant talking with the likes of Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Greg Chappell and others, this young man will only improve and will stay the distance to serve India at the top.

Well Robin Uthappa has made his mark and now he will have to wait for his opportunities to come and make sure that he keeps his head down and make significant scores for himself and for his country. Consistency is what he has to get into his game and that is what the key is for sustaining long International Careers. All the best Robin in your journey as an Indian Cricketer and wishing you all the success and make sure that you keep the tricolour flying with your performances.