The Kolkata Knight Riders are having quite the season. They’re on the top of the table, their bowling has been world class, and to say that their top order is in form would be an understatement. And they keep getting better with each passing game.
The Knight Riders’ players are in the midst of a mini-renaissance – opening batsman Sunil Narine’s see-ball, hit-ball strategy has been the single most entertaining thing to watch this season (regardless of whether he scores runs or not), Gautam Gambhir is playing like it’s the mid-2000s, Nathan Coulter-Nile looks nearly unplayable, and the rest of the players have chipped in with useful performances whenever the team needed it.
But the one man that has stolen the headlines has been Robin Uthappa. Nine innings, 331 runs, 17 sixes, four 50s, at an average of over 40 and a strike rate of nearly 170, and 10 dismissals behind the stumps – extraordinary stats that have elevated the 32-year-old to a rarified plane. These are numbers that most talented players in their mid-20s would kill to have besides their name.
But with such great performances, comes great chatter. Pundits, fans and experts can’t stop talking about the Robbie resurgence. Why isn’t Uthappa in the Indian team? Has Uthappa been the unluckiest cricketer of this era? Is it time to give Uthappa another chance to prove himself at the international stage?
It is fairly common for people to get carried away by a player’s IPL form, but has Uthappa really done enough to warrant a place in the Indian team? Let’s take a look.
There’s no doubt that Uthappa has been in scintillating form, but let’s not underplay how lucky he has been, especially during his big knocks. He’s scored four half centuries so far but has had the wheel of fortune spin in his favour in literally each one of those innings.
He’s been saved thanks to two abysmal umpiring decisions – a clear nick to the keeper and a straight-forward LBW decision – in two innings, while the opposition fielders kept giving him lifelines by dropping sitters in the other two. Three out of four times, he had faced only a handful of deliveries. Credit to him for making it count, but he’s had the luck of an Irishman throughout the tournament.
But it’s unfair to discredit his performances simply because he’s ridden his luck. So let’s discuss his batting style. It is a well-known fact that Uthappa is an infamously slow starter. It takes him 15-20 balls to get his eye in, during which period he is usually scoring at a strike rate of around 100 (give or take).
In modern cricket, especially T20s, a quick start is of paramount importance. If you have a top order batsman that is going to take his sweet time to start accelerating and gets out before he hits top gear, it adds an enormous amount of pressure during the slog overs.
At 32, Uthappa isn’t as agile or energetic as he used to be. Moreover, there are three other quality wicketkeeper-batsmen that are making a case for themselves – Wriddhiman Saha, Sanju Samson and Rishabh Pant. Saha has proven that he has what it takes to perform at the highest level, both as a batsman and as a wicketkeeper.
While it is too early to judge Samson and Pant, both the youngsters have been exceptional in the IPL so far and have shown that they too are ready to stake a claim for a permanent position in the Indian squad.
Furthermore, if we discuss Uthappa’s international record, it does not paint a very pretty picture. Sure, an argument can be made that he hasn’t been given enough chances, but the truth is that he hasn’t done himself any favours.
Let’s look at the statistics – in ODIs, he has scored 932 runs and six 50s at an average of 26 and a strike rate of 90, while in T20s, he has scored 249 runs and one 50 in 12 innings at an average of 25 and a strike rate that’s below 120. While this may sound harsh, these numbers reveal a batsman who suffers from inconsistency at the highest level.
Finally, a cursory glance at his statistics will show you that Uthappa has always struggled abroad. A majority of his international runs have come in India. Also, in 2009, when the IPL was held in South Africa, he had a miserable tournament, scoring only 175 runs at an average of below 16 and a strike rate of 102, his worst outing in 10 editions.
It’s easy to understand why everyone is clamouring for Uthappa’s return to the international team. When he’s on song, he is one of the most stylish batsmen in the game and is an absolute pleasure to watch. Plus, he seems like a likeable guy, you can’t help but root for him.
And while we can argue all day about Uthappa’s luck (or lack of it), his chances of making it back into the Indian squad are slimmer than a supermodel’s waist. India has such a talented crop of young batsmen knocking on the doors, it seems almost impossible for Robin to make a return to the highest level.
Having said this, Uthappa will always have a special place in our hearts. The doff of his hat in the 2007 World Cup, his sublime, classy, poetry-in-motion batting, and his omnipresent smile will ensure that he will go down in history as a cult hero. And regardless of whether he dons the Indian jersey again, let’s enjoy the entertainment he is providing us this season. We don’t need Batman, we have Robin!
Updated Date: Apr 29, 2017 10:42 AM