India v Pakistan, 4th ODI, Gwalior November 14, 2007

'We are on top of our game' - Uthappa



Robin Uthappa is gung-ho ahead of the fourth ODI in Gwalior © AFP

Listen to Robin Uthappa at a press conference on the eve of a match and you could be forgiven for thinking that he, and sometimes the team, is bullet proof. Everything about him is gung-ho, the morale is perennially high and the future's always bright.

Much like his approach to batting, he attacks as a mode of defence. When somebody questioned Zaheer Khan's effectiveness as the leader of the bowling attack, Uthappa shot back saying Zaheer had bowled magnificently in Kanpur, conceding just 25 off seven overs and that it was unfair to ask such questions.

He wanted to "fight fire with fire" against Australia and although India went down 4-2, Uthappa said the intensity with which the games were contested was good preparation for the series against Pakistan.

"Against Australia the pressure brought the best out of us and made us ready for this series," Uthappa said on the eve of the fourth one-dayer in Gwalior. "There is pressure in this series as well, as it still can go either way. But we are confident of doing well, as we are on top of our game."

The Indian batting line-up is indeed on top of their game. They chased down 240 with ease in Guwahati, scored 321 in Mohali, and 294 in Kanpur. The top and middle order coming good in each game has meant that Uthappa, batting at No. 6 or No. 7, hasn't had much of an opportunity against Pakistan. He came in with India at the doorstep of victory in the first ODI, got a poor lbw decision early on in the second, and scored a brisk 19 off 17 balls after coming in during the 44th over in the third.

Has the lack of opportunity flustered him considering that he broke into the one-day team as an opener who scored 83 against England in Indore - the highest score by an Indian on debut?

"As long as I am contributing to the team's cause, it does not matter to me whether I am batting," Uthappa said. "I can bat anywhere." When pressed for a preferred batting position, he refused to budge, saying that he would bat "wherever the team wants".

Ironically, it is his success at the position the team wanted - No. 6 or No. 7 - that has cemented Uthappa's spot in the one-day side. After his sparkling debut, Uthappa was unable to secure a place for himself at the top of the order after a disastrous World Cup, in which he scored 30 runs, meant that Uthappa struggled to get a game during the tour of England in 2007. It didn't help either that most of the Indian top-order slots were non-negotiables.

A cool 47, batting at No 7, to win a tense game against England at The Oval sowed the seeds of Uthappa's finishing career after which he has batted primarily in the lower-middle order. It's a difficult position to bat in for you are expected to consolidate if the top-order fails, accelerate if you enter during the final overs, and farm strike when batting with the tail. Though Uthappa hasn't been needed to play significant innings in the series so far, he's prepared to "play it tough on the field" should the situation arise as India attempt to clinch the series.

George Binoy is an editorial assistant at Cricinfo