Robin Uthappa was once touted as the answer to India’s top order problem. He debuted in 2006 and scored a brilliant 86 against England and was part of India’s World Cup campaign in 2007 and won the World T20 2007 with the Indian team.
After that, he found himself out of the team, thanks to form and injuries and apart from making guest appearances; Uthappa has largely been seen as a domestic and IPL player, rather than an international cricketer.
Robin Uthappa talked about his career so far and playing outside his comfort zone with Cricbuzz.com and here are few excerpts from the interview.
One of the biggest changes he recently made was to leave his home state of Karnataka. "After last year when I felt I was not being valued as a senior player in my side, I thought I had to look at my career with a different perspective, challenge myself as a cricketer. By stagnating, you are only going backwards," Uthappa admits.
He wanted a fresh start and looked to Kerala, as it came naturally to him, being a Malayali.
He said "I looked at Kerala because there was a sense of familiarity. I'm also a Malayali and the fact that it is down south (helps in understanding the place's cultural ethos). The decision to move to Kerala was also because I saw a lot of potential in that side.”
"I honestly believed that I could add value to the team in a manner that they could win championships. I believed they had no business playing plate for the last five years for the kind of team they have. I believed I could take them out of plate, to elite and maybe even win one-day championship. That's why I offered to go there," Uthappa said.
However, the deal between Uthappa and Kerala fell through and Uthappa explains what happened.
He says,"It was pretty much confirmed that I was going to play for Kerala and then I sent them an email saying I'll be available and will be very happy playing for them. I was a little delayed because I was on a vacation. I had told them that I will email by July 1, but I emailed them on 4th or 5th of July. And by then, they had secured another player. So they thought because I hadn't replied I wasn't interested anymore. They went ahead and secured Arun Karthik."
Uthappa then floated around his availability with other teams and Saurashtra decided to bring him in. "I floated my availability around. A lot of them said 'we will get back to you'. Saurashtra was the one to get back quickly. I just decided 'whoever is going to comeback quickly, I'm gonna go with them'," Uthappa said.
He said it was a big learning curve for Uthappa, who had to get outside his comfort zone to play for a team with a completely different culture.
He says, "Inspite of cricket being a team game, it's a bunch of individuals coming together to achieve a team goal. There are so many dynamics. And when you come with experience to a new place, you have to understand where you stand and give respect to other players who have been there and been performing for so long. If I was in a team and an outsider came to the side, I would expect him to understand and learn what the culture is. This first year has been a learning of the culture that has been in this side."
"No one's required to speak in Hindi or English in team meetings anymore," he says, proud of his latest learning. "Players are comfortable communicating with me in Gujarati on the field. This is something you learn only when you push yourself outside your comfort zone and I've been able to do that."
Taking a dig at his former team Karnataka, Uthappa said that his time with KKR was full of tension free cricket.
He explains, "The fact that there is no insecurity (in KKR helps). I can just go out there and express myself. There you're not looking to secure your spot, you're going out there to win matches for your team and that's I have done consistently in the IPL. That's the difference.”
"It suits me because I play my best when I play to the merit of the ball. I'm a naturally hard-hitting batsman. I trust my range and when the ball is in my range, I know it will go all the way. I have that confidence," Uthappa said talking about his game.
Though he has had a terrific career in IPL, since its inception; his international career that started with lots of promise a decade ago, has fizzled out.
Talking about his game, Uthappa said, "It is to make sure I'm ready, flexible in my mind and my body to execute my different initial movements to the different kinds of bowlers I'm facing, depending on how quick they are, depending on the conditions and the wicket. So a lot of factors come into play. To have ownership of all those things is something I'm constantly working on."
Talking about his motivation for playing cricket, Uthappa said, "The dream of wanting to play for India keeps me going. The dream of wanting to win another world championship keeps me going. That's a dream I believe I will achieve. I need to be lucky as well."
"I also want to be a good example to my son (Neil)," he says. "I want to inspire my son on certain levels. I want to be that father, if he ever reads about me or finds out about me, should be proud about how I've played my cricket, the kind of person I am on and off the field."