Robin Uthappa November 28, 2013

'I needed to bring back my love for the game'

From hiring a personal coach, to changing his technique and mindset, to losing weight - Robin Uthappa chats about his plans for a comeback

On April 23, Robin Uthappa watched Chris Gayle annihilate Pune Warriors on his way to a record-breaking unbeaten 175 from the best spot at the Chinnaswamy Stadium: behind the stumps.

"He is so clear and at peace with himself about how he wants to play his cricket," said Uthappa, who kept wicket for Pune Warriors, on the morning after the match. "You can feel his calmness. It is like he knows what he is doing, what is he going to do, and what he is capable of doing."

Dressed in a plain white v-neck t-shirt, Uthappa looks fit - not something that could be said of him through his career. We're sitting in a coffee shop at the team hotel in Bangalore. He orders a fresh strawberry juice; when told that it's not available, he opts for sweet lime with ice and no sugar.

Most T20 performances are soon binned from the memory but Gayle's assault, the highest individual T20 score, carried a personal meaning for Uthappa.

"It was reconfirmation of all the things that I am doing," he said. "I have been working on coming to terms with making peace with myself about my own game, about the confidence I had about my own game. Watching him broke a lot of barriers for me.

"You could achieve whatever you want to achieve, the way you want to achieve it. If you believe that you can actually do it, just persist with that belief and work hard towards it. It is gonna happen. The world is going to see it."

Last July, Uthappa found himself in Belgium, in a contemplative mood. He had decided to be on his own to sort out his life. He was 12th on the run charts in IPL 5 - a season when Pune Warriors finished last. Uthappa felt he had had a "decent" domestic season with Karnataka. But he had not played for India in an ODI since July 6, 2008. His last international appearance had been in the rain-affected T20 in South Africa, before the IPL in 2012.

"I went alone for ten days on a holiday," Uthappa said. "I was at a bus stand in Belgium and I called him up. 'Sir, I want to work with you. I want to fix my game.'"

The man he called was Pravin Amre, the former India batsman, who coached Mumbai to three Ranji Trophy titles in five seasons. Amre had helped Uthappa make a small technical change during the IPL in 2012. The suggestion had worked well and in July that year, Uthappa hired Amre as his personal coach.


In 2011, Uthappa had been restless. Self-doubt gnawed at him from the inside.

"I saw myself as an aggressive batsman. At the beginning of 2011 I realised I was not channelising all my energies into the game. I needed to bring back my focus and passion and love for the game. To some extent I wasn't playing the game for what I actually started playing it for. I told myself I wanted to fall in love with this game again rather treat it as earning money, making a living or as a profession."

He considered the things he could control. "Probably the first thing is my body. I have never shied away from going to the gym, training hard or pushing myself. I can very confidently say I am one of the strongest guys in the country right now, as far as fitness is concerned," Uthappa said.

One of his best friends, Sheethl Goutham, recommended a nutritionist. "I got more disciplined about food. I have more knowledge and understanding about what I should eat and shouldn't eat. That discipline started dripping into my game as well."

"I enjoyed just being there at the wicket. Occupying the crease was so much fun. Middling the ball became the definition of domination for me"

With three months to go for the 2012-13 domestic season, Amre pointed out that Uthappa was carrying plenty of extra weight on his upper body. Uthappa did the hard yards and came back 20kg lighter. "It showed me his passion to improve," Amre said.

Once he was hired as Uthappa's personal coach, Amre started with a Powerpoint presentation where he focused primarily on the basics of batting. He told Uthappa that he would have to flush out whatever he had learnt over 17 years. "Eighty percent of a player's success is mental, 15% is dependent on his skill sets, and 5% is fitness," Amre said.

Amre would make many trips from Mumbai to Bangalore and both men would be seen at the National Cricket Academy. Amre also took Uthappa to the maidans of Mumbai, where he got used to batting without a sightscreen.

Amre noticed a lot of bottom-hand play and wanted Uthappa to correct his grip. "With that grip he played for India and cleared the ground. It was not that it was wrong, but there was so much room for improvement," Amre said.

In the nets they worked on methods that were more correct technically, more compact. They worked on a series of skills in sequence - proper stance, pick-up, down-swing, the impact point, follow-through.

One of the major technical changes Amre suggested was for Uthappa to modify his stance. Uthappa was not convinced, but Amre persisted and pointed out that it would help him adapt his game better to different pitches.

"I had a very closed and upright stance," Uthappa said. "I used to play so much on the up that I would not have control over my shots, especially against the fast bowlers when it came to drives square of the wicket or even in front of the wicket. With the wider stance, I am now more flexed. It helps me to be more on top of the ball and also read the trajectory of the ball.

"I feel more technically sound than I have ever been. I am playing the new ball with ease. I am dominating, am able to score runs, get off to good starts, build a solid foundation."

For the first time in ten years of domestic cricket Uthappa faced about 1200 deliveries a season. He did not count them but Amre told him. "I have never been known as that type of a batsman," said Uthappa, who scored 683 runs in nine matches.

He said it not matter that he made only one century. "I saw the difference because I enjoyed just being there at the wicket. Occupying the crease was so much fun. Middling the ball became the definition of domination for me."


Before the Ranji Trophy last year Uthappa toyed with idea of skipping the entire season, because he didn't think he was quite ready. He ended up playing and finished as the second-highest run scorer in his team.

"It showed me that even though I was 60% ready and not completely sure of everything I was doing, I came out as good as any. That gave me a lot of confidence, which spilled into the Ranji one-dayers.

"I got two hundreds and two fifties. And in a couple of games, I got out on 49 and in one I retired on 48. I was the top-scorer in the country in domestic one-day cricket."

When he made a 33-ball 24 against the Australians in Chennai he knew he was getting to the point he had desired. "Man, I loved that innings. I just knew… it was just a confirmation for me again that this is the level of cricket I am meant to play. And I know I will play that level of cricket. And I know that everything I am doing will take me to that level of cricket again. It is only a matter of time.

He is 28 now, still confident that age is on his side. He says he can afford to overhaul his technique and mindset and continue to stay confident.

"I am very, very sure about my processes. I am very confident about the work that I am doing. I know I have compromised on being my aggressive self, but I know I have done [it] for a good solid scientific reason."

In June this year, immediately after the IPL, Uthappa moved to Mumbai to fine-tune the changes to his technique and to break some "physical and mental barriers". In July, he scored a triple-century in the Safi Darashah Trophy, playing for Karnataka State Cricket Association XI against Jharkhand. He was part of the India A side that played against visiting A teams from New Zealand and West Indies, and scored one century before hamstring tendinitis in his left leg curtailed his progress.

On his return last week, after seven weeks away, without any practice games, Uthappa made a fluent 86 in Nagpur against a Vidarbha side that included India seamer Umesh Yadav.

According to Amre, Uthappa is now able to hold the shape of his bat and has improved his balance while playing his strokes. "The whole idea of him hiring me was to make him a complete cricketer who can perform well in all formats. That is my goal," Amre said.

"I am," reads a tattoo on the inside of Uthappa's right arm that he got inscribed in Singapore earlier this year. "It is an affirmation to myself. It is an acceptance of myself in my truest form. I wanted to get something which reminds me of the direction I'm in and the direction I want to be going in.

"I've made some hard decisions in the last one-and-a-half years. And I'm bloody proud about the decisions I have made because I know I am heading the right way. I know who I am. This is the person I have always wanted to be."

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo