IPL 2022: How the new Chennai Super Kings setup has brought back Robin Uthappa of old

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IPL 2022: How the new Chennai Super Kings setup has brought back Robin Uthappa of old
© Provided by Firstpost IPL 2022: How the new Chennai Super Kings setup has brought back Robin Uthappa of old

Walking down the track to fast bowlers and flat-batting them over their head — it’s a vintage Robin Uthappa shot isn’t it? With a steady head and the gift of timing, he always makes this difficult shot look ridiculously easy. And whenever he plays this early in his innings, it’s a sign of him being in good touch.

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And he indeed was on Tuesday night at the DY Patil stadium.

Against a quality Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) attack, we witnessed some extravagant stroke-play from Uthappa’s willow during his game changing knock of 88 off just 50 balls — his highest score in the Indian Premier League (IPL) as well as his second half-century while opening the innings for Chennai Super Kings (CSK) this season. And riding on his massive 165-run third-wicket stand with Shivam Dube, the defending champions finally managed to make their presence felt in the competition with their inaugural triumph this year.

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After CSK went down against Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) in the last game, their coach, Stephen Fleming had said in the presser, “Not being close to winning any games, you get a bit of self-doubt, and the players get a little bit niggly.”

Coming into their fifth game in the championship, the ‘Yellow Brigade’ was looking for someone who could inject a little bit of spark in their campaign. And after losing the toss and being put in to bat, the batters needed to show intent.

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Uthappa did exactly that, despite losing a couple of his partners early. And after getting some assurance from Dube from the other end, he completely unleashed himself, fetching more sixes than boundaries during his stay at the crease. The hitting was so clean that he didn’t even worry about the bigger boundary at one side.

Well, such assaults are nothing new for the 36-year old Bengaluru boy. In fact, in the early days of his career, this used to be his speciality.

We got our first glimpse of Uthappa’s talent in the Challenger Trophy in Mumbai in 2005. As an opener he made a brilliant 66 for India B in a losing cause against an India A attack which had the likes of Zaheer Khan, RP Singh and Murali Kartik. In 2006, in the subsequent edition of the tournament at Mohali he scored a match-winning 93-ball 116 while opening the innings, an innings that fetched him a place in India’s ODI team against England in that year.

Great spirit shown by the boys. Important win under our belt. Onwards and upwards @chennaiIPL💪 #Yellove #WhistlePodu #CSK pic.twitter.com/jyvt9uIVqm

— Robin Aiyuda Uthappa (@robbieuthappa) April 12, 2022

Uthappa’s international debut at Indore happened also as an opener in an ODI against England. He scored 86 off 96 and was unfortunately run out.

He was always attractive to watch, had every shot in the book against both pace and spin, and most importantly, wasn’t afraid to hit the ball in the air. As a result in that pre-IPL era, the elegant right-hander made a reputation of being something of a powerplay specialist. He performed the exact role in the 2007 T20 World Cup batting at No 3 and did a fair job.

However, the competition for a top-order batting slot was fierce in the Indian team and Uthappa’s temperament as a batter (or the lack of it) was not always in his favour. Hence, soon he lost his place. Even in the early days of IPL, he was used as a floater in Mumbai Indians.

In later seasons he continued to move from one franchise to another but never found his comfort zone as a batter. He was a part of Kolkata Knight Riders’ (KKR) two successful campaigns in the IPL but never managed to cement his spot at the top.

Finally in 2021 when Uthappa moved to Chennai from Rajasthan, he received a call from his former captain and good friend MS Dhoni.

“MS called me after two days and said, ‘See you, bro’. He said, ‘welcome to the team’. I said ‘thank you for having faith in me’. He said ‘I had nothing to do with this decision’. He said ‘I didn’t do anything because of two reasons. One is, for your own good. You should get into this side for your own credentials. Two is if I have anything to do with this decision, people will always think because you are my friend, I have picked you in the side. So, I had nothing to do with this decision’,” Uthappa recently revealed this conversation while chatting with Ravichandran Ashwin on his YouTube channel.

“When I came here, that was communicated to me — ‘When you get an opportunity, you will get 4 or 5 games for sure. But you have to wait for your opportunity,” he further added.

“For me clarity and communication are very important. So for me, one of things that I liked about that first conversation with MS was that he told me, ‘As of now, you don’t walk into my playing XI. We are two months away from the IPL. We will see where it goes in the next couple of months. Because I am not thinking about it at this point in time’,” he said.

“Then when I came here, they told me, ‘Listen, you are in the top 12 or 13. But you might not get the first game. You might have to wait for your turn.’ I said, ‘Fair enough, that communication is there'”, he added.

Uthappa did wait for his turn. In 2021, he featured in just four matches, scored 115 runs with an average 28.75 and strike-rate of 136.90. And with Faf du Plessis along with Ruturaj Gaikwad being there at the top, he had to bat in the middle-order.

In 2022, Uthappa again got into the CSK squad through the mega auction. But this time in the new set-up, the opportunities are much wider for him, especially with the departure of du Plessis. The management tried Devon Conway for one game but eventually settled down with Uthappa at the top.

And in his first match as an opener this season against the Lucknow Super Giants (LSG), the first two deliveries he faced went for back-to-back boundaries. The new CSK opener scored a 27-ball 50 in that match and there has been no looking back since.

With 194 runs in five innings at 38.80 and with a strike-rate of 163.20, Uthappa is the third highest run-getter in IPL 2022 so far. The role of being a dasher at the top ideally suits a batter of his talent and the needs of his team. Now the next challenge for Uthappa will be to prolong this good run.

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