Robin Uthappa, who last played for India in July 2015 on a tour of Zimbabwe, believes he "still has a World Cup" left in him, and is targeting a comeback to the Indian team in the T20 format.
Uthappa, 34, has played 46 ODIs and 13 T20Is, and was part of the 2007 50-over World Cup campaign as well as the inaugural T20 World Cup played later in the same year. However, he was dropped from the team in mid-2008 and his international appearances since then have been sporadic, with a total of eight ODIs and four T20Is since his first comeback in October 2011.
"Right now I want to be competitive. I still have that fire burning in me, I really want to compete and do well," Uthappa told ESPNcricinfo. "I honestly believe I have a World Cup left in me, so I'm pursuing that, especially the shortest format. The blessings of Lady Luck or God or whatever you call it, plays a massive factor. Especially in India, it becomes so much more evident. I don't think it is as evident when you're playing cricket outside of India. But in the subcontinent and India especially, with the amount of talent that we do have in our country, all of those aspects become evident.
"You can never write yourself off. You would be unfair to yourself if you write yourself off. Especially if you believe you have the ability and you know that there is an outside chance. So I still believe in that outside chance. I still believe that things can go my way and I probably can be a part of a World Cup-winning team and play an integral role in that as well. Those dreams are still alive and I think I'll keep playing cricket till that is alive."
Uthappa has scored 934 runs in ODIs at an average of 25.94 and a strike rate of 90.59, while in T20Is his corresponding numbers are 249 runs at 24.90 and 118.00. He has had great success in the IPL, initially with Royal Challengers Bangalore and then in more sustained fashion with Kolkata Knight Riders. He was the top run-getter in the IPL in 2014, and central to Knight Riders' title run that year. However, underwhelming returns in 2019 meant the team released him, and he was picked by Rajasthan Royals in the last auction.
"I still believe in that outside chance. I still believe that things can go my way and I probably can be a part of a World Cup winning team and play an integral role in that" Robin Uthappa
On his numerous short comebacks in the Indian team - he played one T20I in 2011, one in 2012, five ODIs in 2014 and finally three ODIs and two T20Is in 2015 - Uthappa felt he had been batted out of position.
"When I played for India [in 2007 and 2008], I scored all my runs opening the batting. Then [in his comeback phases] I ended up playing for India in the middle-order, which seems so... from one perception it seems very unfair," Uthappa said. "That kind of cycle has repeated itself maybe three or four times in the three or four comebacks that I've made in the Indian team. I scored all the runs up the order, and I got to bat in the middle-order when I got back in the Indian team."
Stats-wise, Uthappa has slightly better numbers when he has not opened the batting for India. In the 16 ODI innings in which he batted at the top of the order, he has an average of 25.50 and a strike rate of 88.31 with four half-centuries. In 26 ODI innings in which he has batted lower down, he averages 26.30 at a strike rate of 92.44 with two half-centuries.
In his comebacks in 2011, 2012 and 2014, Uthappa played as an opener and crossed 20 once in five innings. On another comeback in 2014 and a subsequent one in 2015, he batted in the middle-order.
Uthappa said he was targeting the role of being a finisher for the Indian team and had begun training with that specific goal in mind, till the coronavirus pandemic enforced a standstill.
"What I've been trying to do is to make sure that I'm well prepared," he explained. "Opening the batting is something I can do at any point of time. I'm trying to make sure I'm well equipped to bat in the middle order as well. One of the things that we need today in Indian cricket is a good finisher, and that's something that I'm pursuing and working hard on. It's something I'm looking forward to improving on a day to day basis.
"I'm actually missing practice really bad right now because that was one of the aspects I was working on and I felt like I was beginning to get somewhere. Because you know it's a process. These kinds of things don't just turn up on their head. You need to work on it and get better at it on a day to day, week to week, month to month basis. I felt like I was getting places. A small kind of sweet spot. God willing, I believe it will happen at some point in time."