Start of a new journey

Start of a new journey

Start of a new journey

On 1st of July 2012, Robin Uthappa embarked upon a new journey with Pravin Amre, having hired the former India opener as his personal batting coach.

It was a brave decision for both of them and attracted a fair amount of scepticism if not sarcasm. Almost two years after this unique arrangement so far as Indian cricket is concerned, Uthappa has emerged as a batsman he always wanted to -- in his own words, a batsman with clean and correct cricket.

The ongoing IPL, where he is currently the Orange Cap holder with 572 runs from 13 innings, attests his remarkable transformation.

He has reaffirmed the fact that one can be successful in T20 without resorting to extravagance.

From a stage where he wanted to give up the game owing to many personal and professional reasons, Uthappa has managed to turn the corner with hard work and no less emotional stability provided by his girlfriend and former tennis player Sheethl Gautham.

Uthappa opens up on a range of issues, including his enduring dream of playing for India again, in a chat with Deccan Herald. Excerpts.  

Is it fair to say Robin Uthappa has rediscovered himself?

I wouldn't say I have rediscovered myself. Maybe I have rediscovered so far as the hunger for the game or playing for the love of the game is concernedAs a cricketer, probably, I have reinvented myself.

I am taking all these good things and moulding myself into someone who I believe is best for me and works for me. It has taken a lot of hard work but more than rediscovering myself, I would say I have reinvented myself as a cricketer.

What has been different this IPL season?

I had done a lot of work (to change my game) and a lot of it was fresh for me in the last two seasons.

There was certain amount of anxiety like 'will I be able to perform with this new technique, will I be able to deliver to the level of expectations that I had created for myself'?

Yeah, a little bit of anxiety was there and I was a little more tense for sure. But now I have a reached a stage where the technique has become a part of me.

It's my nature the way I play right now, the confidence is a lot more. I know it's all there in the repertoire and I just need to go out there and express myself.
I have worked on different aspects of my game; not just the technical but mental part of it as well -- how I read the game, how I approach the game like setting up a good foundation... there is a way to all that.

There is a certain pattern to it which I enjoy more, which I am more comfortable with.

I am more sure and secure which makes you think I am a different player now.

It's a brave decision to overhaul one's game at 25 and how challenging was it for both you and Pravin?

Yes, it wasn't just challenging for me but Pravin sir as well. Because you can mould a 15 or a 16-year-old's game.

Post that the game is set. That's the game you carry for the rest of your life.

The challenge for him was that I am someone who has played for India already, been part of World T20 champion squad...

To overhaul my technique was a massive challenge for him.

It took time for him to commit that I can work with this guy and help him.

It was challenging for me because we had never heard of something like that before.

People were saying like, 'man, what's this guy doing'? But it was an attempt to resurrect myself.

I told myself that I am going to do this and even if I don't play for India again, at least for the rest of my life I want to play clean and correct cricket.

Because I always knew there was massive gap in my technique which I needed to improve... getting inside the line, walking across, nudging and poking outside the off-stump and I knew my right-hand was more dominating.

I knew there was a lot to improve but I wanted to pursue it at least for my own satisfaction.    

This is the best IPL you have had after 2010 (for Royal Challengers) in terms of impact. But unlike in 2010 when you would slog a lot, this time your game is more nuanced.

In 2010, what seemed like a very good season for me, I scored only 300-plus runs. But I know I played a more dynamic kind of role.

In the subsequent seasons I scored over 400-plus runs and I was among the top-10 run-getters but since the team (Pune Warriors) wasn't doing well, one never noticed my performance.

Having said that, yes, it's been a conscious effort to play correct cricket. I don't really need to slog.

I can play good cricketing shots, holding my shape, placing the ball in the gaps and still score at a good pace.

I am not trying to prove anything to anyone but I feel that when I see greats like Rahul (Dravid), Sachin (Tendulkar) and all of those who played T20 cricket, they all played good authentic cricketing shots and scored runs.

All this period what I have done is practice good cricketing shots through the entire domestic season.

Opening the innings obviously has done wonders for you...

All these days in IPL, I had been mostly batting in the middle-order as a finisher which is a different challenge.

Opening the batting is something I know I can perform really well. It's something that I do day in an day out, it is practically my bread and butter.

So I knew I would do well if I had to bat in that position because everything is sorted in my head — my game plan, my mindset, my approach, my shot selection...

All those plans are in place when it comes to opening.

For me if I am batting in the middle order, the challenge is different. It's more on the go because the foundation is already set; you play to a given situation, you don't have the luxury of creating one.

I am not saying opening is easier than batting in the middle.

That's not what I think but because I do it so often, opening comes more naturally to me.

Given your performance through the season, do you think an India call up isn't too far away?

I started doing all that work I have been is because I believed that I had the ability to play for India again.

Yeah along the way I had my own personal reasons why I lost my desires, my goals, my dreams but I am glad I got back and channelised all my energies into the game in a way that helped me come back with a vigour of young child.

I felt like I fell in love with the game once all over again.

That excitement of just being on the field or bat or keep, helping team-mates...

The attitude changed completely. I believe I am at the start of my journey as far as playing for India is concerned.

Where and how do you think you lost your way?

In 2012 before my second IPL season with Pune Warriors, I reached a stage where I wanted to give up playing.

I wasn't enjoying myself, I saw myself transform into a person that I didn't appreciate. I wasn't enjoying other people's success.

I didn't like that about myself because I know I wasn't that kind of a person. I truly enjoy others doing well and that's why I play a team sport.

I was earning a lot of money and I had everything in life but I still wasn't enjoying.

So I asked myself 'what's the point'?

I became recluse and bitter as a human being.

I became one of those where I saw myself succeeding if the other person failed and that thought was repulsing for me.

That's when I decided to give up playing and I even thought of shifting abroad.

What changed then?

I spoke about this to Sheethl and she asked me 'why'. I told her I didn't like the person I have become.

Then she advised me to leave that thought behind for a while and asked me what 'would you want to do the one thing, to start with, to play the game again'?

I said probably lose weight, I had become 95 kgs and I was probably in the worst shape of my life.

She said fine and put me on to a nutritionist she had worked with when she was playing.

I started working with this nutritionist around the Vijay Hazare Trophy in 2012 and within 10 days I could feel the difference.

The discipline was back and my performance improved a lot. That was the spark that I needed. 
What has been the lesson you have learned?

Cricket teaches you that you can't take anything for granted. It teaches you that you need to respect everything in your life.

You can't think that something is going to stay with you if you don't work on it.

I might sound a bit philosophical but cricket has taught me a lot. I am at peace with myself now, I am very happy and content.

I don't think I have ever been so happy in my life.