Robin Uthappa has had to learn some harsh lessons since making his international debut. A hard-hitting batsman, he made a bright start to his international career and, with the advent of Twenty20, was in favour with the Indian and the IPL set-up. But issues with fitness, frequent shuffling within the batting order and the accompanying inconsistency cost him. However, his successful contribution to Royal Challengers Bangalore's winning start in the IPL this year, marks a delayed, yet significant, step towards reaffirming his role in the team.
Uthappa entered the third edition of the IPL with his reputation in need of repair. In South Africa last year, following a transfer to Bangalore from Mumbai Indians, for whom he had been the second-highest run-getter in the inaugural version, Uthappa mustered an average of 15.90. Promoted to open the batting, he suffered a series of failures which refused to abate even when he was dropped to No.3. He's been fluid in the batting order this year as well, but has notched up two match-winning performances. His US$800,000 bid in the 2008 auction had much to do with his potential as a game-changer. He has lived up to that bid this year, using his ability to find the boundary with brute power as well as crafty innovation while managing to shift roles when plans have had to be altered.
In a line-up featuring Jacques Kallis and Rahul Dravid, players accomplished at dropping anchor, Uthappa is one of the aggressors. Against Kings XI Punjab, faced with a target of 204, Uthappa had little time for assessment and attacked from the outset. What Piyush Chawla and Yusuf Abdulla suffered at his hands was meager in comparison to the treatment meted out to Sreesanth, who was smashed for three sixes and a four in an over which yielded 25. In the space of six balls, Uthappa had cut the required rate from over 11 to under 10 and had set Bangalore on course.
He played a useful cameo against Mumbai Indians, but today's performance against Chennai Super Kings came under more challenging circumstances. On a track conducive to fast bowling and taking turn, and the loss of three wickets inside the first ten overs - a rarity for Bangalore this season - Uthappa had to stick on for longer. Not that the realisation had sunk in early. As instinct sometimes tends to overpower strategy, Uthappa's inclination to attack led him to attempt an audacious reverse-slog off Muttiah Muralitharan, which was dropped. The cue: be more selective.
Uthappa, amid a couple of digressions, remained largely steadfast to that plan, scoring three boundaries in the next six overs before taking off in timely fashion in the penultimate over off L Balaji. The first ball was crisply driven for four through extra cover, but the next three underlined the influence he could have on the fate of a game. Three sixes - two dispatched over long-on and the other over midwicket - stretched the damage to 24 runs in the over, and by then, as it turned out during Chennai's abject reply, Banglore had enough on the board.
India's selectors haven't picked him since July 2008 and Uthappa hasn't been included in the 30-man preliminary squad for the World Twenty20 in the Caribbean next month. While his Bangalore compatriots Manish Pandey and R Vinay Kumar will be anxiously waiting to hear the announcement of the final squad of 15 on March 26, Uthappa has no such immediate incentive. And unlike his two team-mates, his form in domestic cricket hasn't hit the headlines either. In this IPL, however, he has set about resurrecting the faith in his ability which could yield the rewards he seeks. "I am just an ordinary player working hard," he said after his knock. His timing, given that the chairman of India's selectors, Kris Srikkanth, is Chennai's brand ambassador, was near perfect.