Robin Uthappa June 10, 2014

'Winning games for India is what I want to do'

Nearly six years after his last ODI, Robin Uthappa returns to the Indian side, refreshed, more assured, and eager to contribute to the team's success

Robin Uthappa racked up 660 runs in the 2014 IPL, including five crucial half-centuries © BCCI

The success in the IPL has now earned you an India cap after six years. How exciting is it to be playing again in the national shirt?
I am very excited. It means a lot to me that I'm playing for the country again. It makes me extremely proud that I am able to do what I love doing at the highest level. But I just see this as an opportunity. I cannot sit back and I say I have made it now. It is an opportunity to start all over again.

You built your success in the IPL as an opener. The last time you played for India, you batted in the lower middle order. Would you be more comfortable opening?
Winning the treble with Karnataka gave me a massive understanding of what I need to do in terms of being able to perform my role to the best of my ability. I am very certain about my role as an opening batsman, because I do it day in, day out throughout the season for Karnataka. So it is just a matter of repeating the same process at a different level.

Are you better aware about your role in the Indian side now?
I know that if I stick to what works for me, I will be successful. I need to stay in the present. I need to make sure that I focus on the most important thing: to play on the merit of the ball. If I can do that, the scores will come. I am pretty confident that I can perform the role of an opening batsman to my fullest potential. I believe that I can set up games for India to win. Winning games for India is what I want to do. That is an intense desire.

You did that with Kolkata Knight Riders. You finished as the IPL's best batsman. How important an achievement was that?
It is a wonderful feeling. I am happy that I was able to contribute to my team in a way that was meaningful. And I was able to do it consistently. I want to build on it. I want to move forward with that growth now. At the same time, I recognise places I can improve on, work on, get better at.

It was an uncertain beginning for both Knight Riders and yourself. You started in the middle order and were only the fourth-choice opener?
I spoke with the team management and told them I wanted to open. So I did feel the pressure in the first match I opened. But that kind of nervousness is only a good thing. It makes you go out there and express yourself better. It makes you more alive in the moment. I came out better with that pressure on. I have got more clarity about my cricket and that has contributed to my success.

"I have become more of a touch player than someone who plays with so much power. That has been my biggest improvement"

I believe your personal coach, Pravin Amre, stressed on focusing on the basics?
Sir [Amre] has always taught me that if I had the right [technical] action, the end result would be good. The initial part of our training was a lot about making sure that my initial movements were correct, my set-up was correct, the way I picked up the bat, the way the backlift was, the [way the] downswing was. When all of that is proper, 60-70% of your work is done. The rest is about getting your head into position, holding that position well and playing the ball late into the gaps. It is important to remind myself about these things because when you achieve a momentum there is danger of getting carried away when it is important to stick to the basics.

You are now showing the full face of the bat in your strokes as opposed to earlier, when it used to be closed. How big a difference has that made?
It has made a massive difference. As a cricketer I can experience certain stuff but I cannot explain to you in words what it feels to hit the ball from the middle of the bat with the right technique. Very early in our training, I remember telling Sir immediately after hitting a fluent cover drive that I have hit so many sixes in my life but this shot I just hit I would never forget. I hit it so sweetly. He told me not to worry because I would do it more often. It is just a feel, more like a sensation.

Which is the most improved stroke?
Every shot in the V past the bowler on both sides has improved. I have worked a lot on the on drive. We spent hours on that stroke where earlier I was vulnerable against the lbw. You have to get a lot of things in place for that shot: your head needs to be on top of the ball, your legs in the right position, your body aligned correctly to get the power into the stroke. But the cover drive is the one that stands out for me. I have become more of a touch player than someone who plays with a lot of power. That has been my biggest improvement. But it will only stay with me if I continue to work on it.

One of the most visible changes is that you have consciously cut down on hitting sixes. Was that planned?
It was not a conscious effort. The aim was to play to the merit of the ball and importantly bat responsibly. As much as opening is a challenge it is also about focusing on holding an end up. That only allows my team to be in a better position. In some games I was trying to chip the ball over the infield but it went straight to the fielder. I felt that in those instances, if I had gone all through, it could have only proved beneficial. One of the goals I set for myself at the outset was that I wanted to bat through 20 overs. But I started the tournament by coming to play in the middle overs before I started to open. Like I said earlier, there is a lot of scope to improve.

You would appreciate the innings Suresh Raina played in the second qualifier for Chennai Super Kings - playing good cricketing shots. Was that the best innings of this IPL for you?
As far as skills are concerned, definitely. Raina held beautiful positions, played late, stood deep in the crease, made use of the bounce, played very clever cricket. I enjoyed watching him play without fear. Also, when you are chasing a massive score it gives a batsman the freedom to be brave. It was inspiring and I picked up some good things from Raina's innings.

You batted with an injured toe against Mumbai Indians in a crucial match that Knight Riders won. You picked it as your best innings this IPL. Why?
Two days before the Mumbai match in Cuttack, I was hit flush on my left big toe by a yorker-length delivery from Pat Cummins. He was bowling with a new ball that swung in. I batted through, but when I removed my shoe I had a broken nail and it was bleeding profusely. Andrew Leipus [Knight Riders' physiotherapist] gave me some painkillers.

I was positive about playing the match considering we had to win it. I was wearing slippers the next day. But on match day, when I reached the ground, I realised I could not even get a sock on easily, let alone a shoe. I am a UK size 10, so Andrew suggested I try a bigger size. I tried one size bigger but that too was not going in. Then I tried Morne Morkel's size 12. But I could barely walk in them even though I hit some throwdowns. I could not put too much pressure on my leading leg as I was unable to get up on my toes.

I had doubts whether I would be able to play the match. I was feeling uncomfortable in Morne's shoes. Andrew suggested I wear something with an open toe to take the pressure off. Jacques Kallis had his bowling boots, which were size 11. Andrew built a nice, thick protection cap over the cut part of the shoe to provide a good cushion.

Fortunately we bowled first and it gave me little more time to adjust to the shoe. I finished with the Man-of-the-Match award with an 80. I thanked Kallis and played in them till the qualifier.

WV Raman, an experienced domestic coach and part of the coaching bench at Knight Riders, says in all these years he has seen you, you have never been more calm about your batting.
I am in a place in my life where I understand how I can handle everything. If I can stay in the present I have got most things taken care of. I have grown as a human being in the last couple of years as well. I am surrounded by positive people, who add value to my life, which helps me perform better.

Do you realistically believe you will be part of the Indian squad for next year's World Cup?
I believe in my ability and that I will play in the World Cup and contribute to our country's success in a meaningful manner. That is the hope. I am very, very consciously living in the present. I am confident but for the moment I am focusing to perform and succeed in Bangladesh to begin with and carry forward the confidence into subsequent tournaments.

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Senguttuvan on June 11, 2014, 3:35 GMT

    Robin is a fantastic batsman, he not got that much opportunity in international cricket.

  • Ashok on June 10, 2014, 20:20 GMT

    @Naman Gupta: You are listing Gambhir's past record when he & Sehwag were arguably the best opening batsmen in the World. Since the last England tour, both have sunk so low that India got whitewashed by England & Australia overseas. Gambhir has some of the old qualities but his worst trait which let him down was "compulsive poking" at the balls outside the off stump. In English conditions that will be his downfall. That is evident to most Cricket Fans. He did not perform all that well in few county matches he played in England last year. His performance in Ranji this season was dismal compared to Uthappa who also outshine him in the IPL7. As for Nair he is a young batsman with lot of promise & a second opening bat. Young batsmen adapt to the conditions much faster. He has an excellent record too. Raina has come a long way in playing short pitched ball. He is an outstanding fielder & useful spinner. I rate him the best guy to fill the all rounder spot way ahead of Binny!.

  • Luka on June 10, 2014, 18:58 GMT

    @Naman Gupta, totally agree. Gambhir is a class act - he has vital experience in England (both in tests and in county) and can provide solidity in the top. Also, he is a mighty impressive captain and can take over if Dhoni fails to win even one test match against this weak English side. He is an all-out team player, and one can see that he wants to perform for his country.

    Robin was given ample chances until 2008. He has played ODi and T20 world cups and hasnt left his mark in either forms of cricket yet. Good form in the IPL is a slippery slope - scoring on flatter tracks cannot be a precursor for success on green pitches, hence the selectors have not gone wild over youngsters like Nair and Samson.

    The good thing about this interview is that Robin seems to want to play and win games for India. These are good signs for the team, because Rohit is not opening material at all!! Hopefully Robin will shine and Rohit can fit into the sans-Yuvraj middle order.

  • vas on June 10, 2014, 18:25 GMT

    Dhoni said before SA series that Gambhir was the 3rd choice as opener. Gambhir has the experience. England series is a 5 test long series. Dhawan and Vijay are regular openers and will play the first few tests. In case of injury/ out of form to either of them Gambhir will get a chance. If Uthappa continues to score runs in Bangladesh he will be a certainty in the squad for Eng ODIs.

    England test team is a young team. No KP, no Trott, no Swann or Panesar. Only Anderson is the threat. India has a good chance to win the test series. All the best.

  • Dummy4 on June 10, 2014, 17:48 GMT

    @Nampally: Gambhir performed well in last year's Ranji season without being exceptional. Also, he played on the grounds of Roshanara Club and demanded green pitches to aid Delhi's fast bowlers as they are Delhi's biggest wicket taking options and played to win. An average of around 50 on green swinging pitches is good in my opinion as he could have always taken the easy way around to score runs by asking for flat pitches. Moreover, he played a few matches in the last county season for essex gaining an idea on how to go about his work for the upcoming English tour. This guy has been the no.1 ranked test batsman and ICC Test Player of the year for a reason. Also Uthappa should have been chosen in place of Binny and Karun Nair is just one season old in domestic circuit. He should play a couple more to hone his skills. As for Raina, he can hook Johnson for sixes only in IPL. We all know Raina's deficiencies with the short pitched deliveries and how he performed the last time he went to ENG

  • ESPN on June 10, 2014, 16:38 GMT

    i love k k r

  • Kashi on June 10, 2014, 15:34 GMT

    @Nampally so very true. Even way back when both Gambhir and Robin Uthappa made their debuts for India more or less at the same time, it was Gambhir who got all the chances and even though Uthappa scored a fantastic 90 plus, he was dropped for good with one poor performance.

  • Dummy4 on June 10, 2014, 14:08 GMT

    Indian Batting Order in ODIs keeping world cup in Mind Should be 1. Shikar 2. Robin 3. Ajinkya 4. Virat 5. Rohit 6. Raina 7. Dhoni 8. Ashwin 9. Bhuvi 9. Shami 11. Aaron 12. Umesh 13. Jadeja 14. Ishwar 15. Rishi Dhawan. Here dhoni should give chances to Raina, Rohit, Virat and Shikar to bowl they will be useful. In case drop Ashwin t and Play Umesh. so 4 Fast bowlers and 4 Part Timers.

  • Ashok on June 10, 2014, 13:11 GMT

    On his current form & record, Uthappa should have been the first choice for the opening batsman's spot for the England Tour. Strangely, he has been pushed into meaningless BD ODI series. When a batsman is producing so consistently like Uthappa, his confidence level is so high that he can perform in any format. This is the basic fact which any Cricketer knows. Sadly, the Indian Selectors are either unaware of this or already have their own list of players. Gambhir with such a poor record compared to Uthappa has made the cut. He already has a record of miserable failures in all matches in England in his last tour. The other outstanding guy who is also in form is K.Nair.India would have done well to have these 2 batsmen in the squad instead of Gambhir & Binny. Raina is also out of the England squad despite his terrific form. The Indian Selectors need to include those who are producing & are in good form at the right time. I find no justification for dropping Uthappa, Nair, Raina & Yadev!

  • John on June 10, 2014, 12:10 GMT

    I am sure Robin is not in the team because of IPL performance, he has done well in domestic too. Wish you the best Robin, we want you in the WC squad.

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