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India should reconsider Robin Uthappa to stabilise opening slot

India should reconsider Robin Uthappa to stabilize opening slot
Robin Uthappa, who played an important role in India’s ICC World T20 2007 win, has blossomed into a seasoned veteran who is assured at the crease, combined with his natural strokemaking abilities © Getty Images

By R Vishal

Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan had made the waning duo Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir history in 2013. The opening woes that had had been pegging India back constantly since the ICC World Cup 2011 were a thing of the past.

With constant setbacks in their fledgling careers either due to impatience from the selectors, as was Dhawan’s case and erratic form as was Rohit’s Achilles heel, ever since he broke into Team India’s setup as a versatile batsman with immense potential, the duo had a point to prove.

The last four months have been in the mould of a survival-of-the fittest type in the Indian batting order with successive tours away from home. In South Africa, Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara passed the test with flying colours. The New Zealand series further tested the batsmen and while Kohli further strengthened his case as the world’s best 25-year old batsman, Rohit and Dhawan’s bad run that started with South Africa continued to follow although there were glimpses of what the pair can do with a little application at the crease.

Now that the chinks in the armour of the openers have been found out, there have been calls for the ever-reliable Ajinkya Rahane to be promoted up the order, sacrificing one of the openers.

While the opening slot was jigsaw puzzle still unresolved, one of Team India’s forgotten men, Robin Uthappa has been in dazzling form for Karnataka; who recently completed a unique hat-trick of titles clinching the Ranji Trophy, Irani Trophy and the Vijay Hazare Trophy in some style.

Uthappa has been in the forefront of all the glory that his state has amassed over the past season. The swashbuckling right hander played an important role in India’s ICC World T20 2007 win. His recent domestic performances suggest that he has blossomed into a seasoned veteran who is assured at the crease, combined with his natural strokemaking abilities.

Moreover, Uthappa has seamlessly taken the mantle as a senior player and is proving to be a fine role-model to look up to for the likes of Karun Nair and Lokesh Rahul, who have proven to be gems in the domestic circuit.

A batting average of 89 is a testimony to the Bangalore man’s revival and willingness to wrestle back the slot that once pushed Sachin Tendulkar to No 4 during the ill-fated Greg Chappell-era.

Another outcast, Gambhir was also in sparkling form in last year’s Ranji Trophy season. However, the Delhi southpaw’s form was blighted by some unwanted incidents with the ground-staff and administrators over the Roshanara pitch.

While Gambhir remains on the fringes and features in the thoughts of captain MS Dhoni, Uthappa’s superior run rolling with a winning momentum puts him at a slight advantage and the Karnataka opener should be handed a well-deserved comeback into the team if and when the selectors run out of patience with Rohit and Dhawan.

At 28, Uthappa might just be entering the best years of his career now. Uthappa did play a part in India’s VB series triumph in Australia in 2007-08 and fared reasonably well against the pace and bounce down under. If the recent series are anything to go by, Dhawan has coped with the short-pitched stuff in fits and starts while Rohit’s woes with the rising ball is not going away in a hurry.

In Test cricket, pools of players chosen to replace some of the greatest batsmen of all-time for Team India have responded with aplomb. One-day International (ODI) cricket, however, has turned into a bit of an ordeal for the men in blue in recent months.

With a proven performer in the shorter formats of the game and going great guns in the domestic circuit, India could do with a Robin if not a batman looking forward to the ICC World Cup 2015. Speaking to cricketcountry.com after the Ranji Trophy win, Uthappa explained his new found assuredness with his batting, “I had already fixed a lot of my technique about 18 months ago. I started working on my batting about 18 months ago and by beginning of the last year, I had fixed my batting and was feeling really confident about my technique.”

“People started seeing a difference in the way I tended to bat. You can see I have a big backlift now, which is not something I used to have. I did have it, but it is not as big as it is right now. It gives me time to play deliveries and I play a lot more with my top-hand right now. I feel I play more correct cricket, which I enjoy. I give confidence to the team with the way I bat right now.”

(R Vishal is a journalist and an alumni of the Asian College of Journalism. He can be followed on Twitter @vishhell)

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