'I believe I can set up games for my country' - Uthappa
India batsman Robin Uthappa believes he has an "extremely good chance" of making it to India's World Cup squad. Speaking to ESPNcricinfo, Uthappa said he believes the team "can do with another opener" and he is well placed to fill that position.
"When I did get an opportunity on a normal one-day wicket, I did get a few runs," he said. "So I am hoping that a few more good performances can give me back that spot to prove my ability at the top of the order. I do believe I can lay the foundation and can set up games and win games for my country."
Uthappa earned his first call-up to the India ODI squad in nearly six years for the three-match series against Bangladesh in June, where he made scores of 50, 14 and 5. However, after a poor run with the India A squad in Australia recently, where he scored just 134 runs in seven one-day innings and only 48 in three unofficial-Test innings, he was overlooked for the ODI series in England. Uthappa said he was disappointed with the decision as he was "hoping to get a longer run".
He has left that disappointment behind though, he said. "I can sense and feel that I am in an around the fringe again and I just need to top up with my performances. I just need to keep going out there and doing well and if I can do that I know it [a call-up] is not far off, it's just a matter of time."
Uthappa admits that during his long hiatus from the Indian team he did have moments of self-doubt. But the decision to reorganise his batting technique about three years ago started what he describes as a "wonderful journey". "As a batsman, I feel like I am in a fantastic space. The mindset has changed, the approach has changed," he said. "I am not satisfied with my performances in the sense that I want to improve. There is a massive hunger that has grown because of all the work I have put in and everything I have experienced in the last few years of deconstructing the game and again reconstructing it."
After revamping his batting, Uthappa came into his own during the previous domestic season, especially in one-day cricket where he made 820 runs in 17 List A innings at an average of 51.25, with four centuries. Despite being forced to miss six Ranji trophy games due to an injury, Uthappa scored 374 runs in the six first-class games that he played at 41.55, including a century. He capped the season with a fine run for Kolkata Knight Riders in the IPL, finishing as the tournament's leading run-getter with 660 runs at an average of 44.
"I just knew that if I can top up those [domestic] performances by doing well in the IPL and contributing to my team, then it would have a massively good impact on my cricket," he said. "Fortunately my game had fallen into place by then, I was very confident of what I was going to be doing, how I was going to approach things at the top of the order. All of that I had sorted. I went into that tournament with a lot of confidence and my goals in place and I was happy to be achieving all of them."
Uthappa recognises that the Champions League T20 starting later this month is another opportunity to catch the eye. "Growth has become a huge part of my life, I want to be growing and improving as far as my skills are concerned. If you don't improve, you tend to stagnate and I don't want to be putting myself in that kind of situation anymore."
With two IPL triumphs to their name in three years, Knight Riders will be aiming for a maiden Champions League T20 title and according to Uthappa, "experiencing that would be a fantastic". He believes Knight Riders are well placed to win. "We are a wonderful unit, an extremely happy unit that cares for each other's performances," he said. "There's a lot of emotion that runs around the team, which is great. I think winning the IPL has brought us closer."
Uthappa's domestic team, Karnataka, meanwhile, will be aiming to repeat their treble of clinching the first-class Ranji Trophy and the Irani Cup, and the one-day Vijay Hazare Trophy. Uthappa is confident they can replicate the success. "It's a huge expectation to live up to again, but it's a good expectation to live up to as well. It's a good standard to set for ourselves. We took it one game at a time last year and if we can repeat that, very consciously, I think we will be able to repeat those performances."
While Uthappa's immediate focus is on success in the Champions League T20 and making a case for World Cup selection, he insists his "ultimate goal" is to play Test cricket. "Even when I started reconstructing my game, that was the goal, to be able to perform at the highest level, and that is the highest level. It was a little unfortunate to miss out last season on six [first-class] games - that would have played a huge part in claiming my [Test] spot as well because there is a dearth of an opening batsman there. I believe this season is an opportunity on many fronts for me, and I am looking forward to maximising it."
Robin Uthappa was speaking after signing on with sports management company Sports Mantra.
Gaurav Kalra is a senior editor at ESPNcricinfo. @gauravkalra75