Uthappa primed for keeping role in Zimbabwe
With India's selectors choosing to rest the regular ODI players for the forthcoming tour to Zimbabwe, the decision to appoint Ajinkya Rahane as captain was considered a surprising move. What is perhaps more surprising is the absence of a specialist wicketkeeper in the 14-member squad for three ODIs and two Twenty20s.
The selection panel, led by Sandeep Patil, has instead picked Robin Uthappa, Kedar Jadhav, Ambati Rayudu as makeshift keepers. While Uthappa and Jadhav have kept wicket regularly for their IPL franchises and domestic teams in limited-overs competitions, Rayudu has kept wicket only in the IPL, for Mumbai Indians.
Both Rayudu and Jadhav clarified they have not been doing wicketkeeping drills as part of their preparations for the series. "At the moment I have only been preparing as a batsman. I haven't been sounded off about keeping so I have been preparing as a batsman only," Jadhav said before the team's departure for Zimbabwe. "Keeping in a 50-over game is a very difficult ask for a non-keeper, so I am only looking forward to enjoying my batting and fielding."
Uthappa, on the other hand, has spent long hours practicing wicketkeeping over the last fortnight. During a preparatory camp in Mumbai with personal batting coach Pravin Amre, Uthappa also had a session with former Mumbai wicketkeeper Vinayak Samant. Uthappa had initially approached former India wicketkeeper Kiran More, but with More out of the country, he turned to Samant, who was considered to be among the best wicketkeepers in India during his decade-long career for Mumbai.
Does this mean Uthappa had already been sounded off about his role as a keeper-batsman for the series? While captain Rahane said he will discuss the issue with the three coaches once the team reaches Harare, Uthappa indicated he is ready for the responsibility. "I am not waiting for anyone to indicate it to me. I am just taking it up, putting my hand up and saying I am doing it," he said.
Uthappa elaborated on how keeping wicket helps a batsman assess the pitch and conditions better. "Keeping gives me the information that I am seeking when I go out to bat. All the information that I would probably take five or seven overs to get, I probably get in two overs because I have already got so much information," Uthappa said. "You just need a little bit of understanding, sometimes just a little bit of confirmation when you are batting out there, if what you have read while keeping is the right thing. It takes one or two overs, so you save that much more time. It's a massive advantage."
With MS Dhoni indicating that he will take a call on his future in the shorter formats after next year's World Twenty20 in India, Uthappa is one of the contenders in the race for Dhoni's alternative, alongside Wriddhiman Saha, Naman Ojha, Sanju Samson and Parthiv Patel.
"I see myself more as a successor than as an alternative but I think MS will play for a very long time. I think people are predicting something that isn't true," Uthappa said. "He is extremely motivated, takes a lot of pride in playing for our country and am certain he will play for a long time. But yeah, definitely I see myself as a successor to him."
Amol Karhadkar is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo