Robin Uthappa has been named captain of Kerala's limited-overs squads for the upcoming Indian domestic season, and feels he and the team will be "the perfect fit".
Uthappa, who had a shortened season as a professional with Saurashtra last year because of injuries, will play his first season as a professional for Kerala in 2019-20. The 33-year-old batsman last captained in recognised cricket in 2014, when he led a touring India A side in a quadrangular one-day series in Australia. He also captained Karnataka sporadically between 2008 and 2012.
"Well, whether in Karnataka or Saurashtra or even at KKR [Kolkata Knight Riders, in the IPL], I have always had a role within the leadership group, as a senior cricketer in the team. So even when I was not the captain, I had a role as a senior player. I've always enjoyed it," Uthappa, currently in Chennai to take part in a pre-season camp for Kerala, told ESPNcricinfo. "And as a senior pro, I have done my bit. So why not? We have a wonderful bunch of boys and … when they asked me, I was happy to take up the offer. All of them, I think of them as younger brothers and I can add value to the team.
"This [the Kerala offer] was supposed to come through a couple of years ago, but didn't happen at the time, and then Saurashtra happened. My two years were up with Saurashtra and Kerala were looking for a professional and it looks like the perfect fit."
"We have a World Cup-winning coach, he brings great value within the group that I will also try to learn from" Uthappa on working with Dav Whatmore at Kerala
Uthappa had led Kerala Cricket Association XI in their last match of the Dr Capt K Thimmappiah Memorial Cricket Tournament in Bengaluru last month in the absence of regular captain Sachin Baby. With the 50-over Vijay Hazare Trophy starting at the end of September, he has now been given a more stable role, but the association hasn't made a decision regarding the captaincy of the Ranji Trophy team, which made it to the quarter-finals and semi-finals respectively under Baby in the last two years.
"Ranji is quite far away, right now the focus is on … it doesn't matter who leads the side," Uthappa said. "There is mutual respect within the group. The team's had its own journey, everyone is happy, and I'm waiting to get in there and be part of it. Who the captain is is inconsequential. It's a happy unit. Sachin has been a massive help for me. It's a different team culture too, and he has been a huge help. He is going to continue to be a huge help. It's quite a good atmosphere."
Uthappa is a two-time Ranji champion with Karnataka and a two-time IPL winner with Knight Riders. There's that experience, plus that from 46 ODI and 13 T20I appearances for India, including at the World Cup and World T20 in 2007, the last of which India won. And at Kerala, he will have for company 1996 World Cup-winning coach Dav Whatmore, under whom Kerala made the Ranji semi-final for the first time in 2018-19.
Whatmore was away, back home in Australia, while the team conducted it's camp in Chennai, but he is expected to link up with the boys soon.
"We have a World Cup-winning coach, he brings great value within the group that I will also try to learn from. We have been in touch on and off," Uthappa said. "We have a little time to go for the Vijay Hazare, so we'll work out the permutations and combinations between now and then.
"It's an extremely talented bunch of lads. There's a lot of hard work. They are very committed. Well, they could do with more of direction and intention as far as winning tournaments are concerned, instead of just doing well and participating. But that will happen as we go along. I think what we will be looking for is a bit more consistency. If we can provide the players with more security about their positions, then performance will be the next step."
Uthappa has played 136 first-class matches, 189 List A matches, and 250 T20s since his professional debut in 2002-03, and has been among the most prolific IPL batsmen since his move to Knight Riders in 2014.