Robin Uthappa
Robin Uthappa of the Chennai Super Kings strikes a six in Qualifier 1 of IPL 2021 against the Delhi Capitals at the Dubai International Stadium on October 10, 2021. Image Credit: BCCI/IPL

You can’t keep Robin Uthappa down. He may be a journeyman in the Indian Premier League, but Uthappa has the uncanny ability to produce incandescent knocks. Over the years, the Karnataka batsman’s bold strokes have left imprints in six teams. The latest star turn came in the rescue of the Chennai Super Kings, who suffered an early setback in the chase of the Delhi Capitals’ score in the Qualifier 1 in Dubai. But then, that’s something he’s been doing for a while.

Uthappa’s best seasons have been with the Kolkata Knight Riders. His sensational scoring has been integral to the franchise’s maiden triumph in 2012 and the second win two years later. Those were indeed the high points of his IPL career.

Irish Eden Belleza/Gulf News

Opening the batting, Uthappa’s fearless shot-making helped Kolkata make good use of the powerplay. He earned the sobriquet “Walking Assassin” for charging fast bowlers. Playing for India, he’s reported to have stepped out and lofted Pakistan’s Shoaib Akhtar, the world’s fastest bowler, straight over his head. But IPL was Uthappa’s stomping ground.

Ever since he debuted for the Mumbai Indians in 2008, Uthappa has been a permanent fixture in the scoring charts. In the first 10 years, he has struck more than 300 runs every season except 2009. His best came in 2014 when he scored over 600 runs in Kolkata’s winning campaign.

In the last three years, his performances have waned, compared to his lofty standards. A below-par display in 2019 was followed by his departure from Kolkata, and a patchy year with Rajasthan Royals ensued before Chennai signed him up for this season. By then, he had scored 4,607 IPL runs at a strike rate of 130.50.

Right time for Uthappa innings

At 35, Uthappa may be approaching the twilight of his career. But on Sunday, he showed that his fearless approach and courageous strokeplay are intact. When Faf du Plessis fell early, Uthappa walked in to face the fifth ball of the Chennai innings. That’s pretty much like opening the batting. The ball is still hard, and the field is up for the powerplay. Perfect conditions for a Uthappa inning. The right time to attack.

It didn’t happen. Because the conditions were different. It’s a big match, the Qualifier. Chennai wouldn’t want to slip. And Uthappa had come into the game against the Delhi Capitals with two flop shows behind him. So caution was the watchword.

It allowed Uthappa to play himself in before unfurling strokes that sped to the fence and over it. Uthappa needed it. Chennai needed it. The result was a 110-runs stand with Ruturaj Gaikwad, which put Chennai in their ninth final.

It may not have been a typical Uthappa innings, but it helped retain his place in the team. And gave Chennai more options at the No 3 slot. Skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni sure was pleased. That means more steel in the Chennai middle-order.

What’s a typical Uthappa innings? Well, there’s no finesse. Nothing cute about it. It’s unadulterated shot-making, and the sole intention is to dominate the bowlers. And it helps the scoreboard ticking furiously.

more write clicks

Uthappa at the crease resembles a cat on hot bricks. He would step out to take the balls on the half-volley or move across the stumps to hoick the bowlers over square-leg and midwicket. He never stays still, and the bowlers have a tough time figuring the right line.

The best of Uthappa’s displays came when he opened the batting. When the turned out Rajasthan last year, Uthappa, who now plays for Kerala in the domestic circuit, had to bat down the order, and his discomfiture was apparent. The results were pleasing when he was sent to open with Ben Stokes.

The stint with Chennai has been an exact replay. The two failures came in the middle-order, and the elevation to No 3 has worked wonders. Dhoni would have noted that.

Uthappa’s innings is far from over. We will see more bold strokes from his flashing blade for a few more years. He’s the king of comebacks in IPL.