It's that time of the year when cricket finds a new definition. From 'city moment of success' to 'maximums', IPL's 'bus dekhne ka nahi' slogan has caught everyone's imagination and interest, but besides all the razzmatazz, excitement and thrill, for quite a few cricketers this IPL 6 outing is a moment of truth.
Some are seeking redemption, for others it's a launch pad and for quite a few discards this is another chance of making a comeback into the Indian side. Even though domestic performers are now being rewarded by this new selection committee, consistent scores in front of packed stadiums in the IPL helps the selectors in their decision making.
While there are a number of cricketers that fall under this category, there are three batsmen who find themselves at different crossroads of life - Robin Uthappa, Unmukt Chand and Ambati Rayudu. They're three brilliant batsmen with extraordinary, smashing talent. First up, I'll focus on Uthappa.
Cut back to April 2006. A 20-year-old walks out for the very first time to open the innings alongside Rahul Dravid against England in the seventh ODI at Indore. By the time he walked back to the pavilion, Uthappa's 86 runs underlined his impact in the middle. Twelve fours and a six in his 96-ball knock was an indication that runs flew from his bat, much like how time has flown in the last seven years for one of Indian cricket's impact players.
Uthappa made his Twenty20 international debut in 2007, played eight games that year, then one-off game in 2008, 2011 and 2012. Such has been his story. While almost all cricketers from the 2007 ICC World Twenty20-winning squad have had consistent opportunities since then - Rohit Sharma, Piyush Chawla and Dinesk Karthik to name a few, only Uthappa has been ignored with alarming consistency. Uthappa has been denied a tremendous amount of cricket in the last seven years ever since his debut in 2006. At 21, he won the World Twenty20 and at 27 he has only played a handful games for India - 38 ODIs in addition to 11 T20Is.
At a juncture when Indian cricket is showing faith in performing and under-performing youngsters, Uthappa rightfully deserves a long call into the Indian limited-overs set up. There came a time in his career, when his flexible, unconditional and versatile batting approach meant he would become a floater in the Indian batting line-up. He made his debut as an opener in his first ODI and would bat at No. 7 in his last ODI for India in July 2008. Between this period, he featured in all batting positions, from one to seven, only for him to realise he had failed to slot himself into a designated role that he would have like to fulfill for India. Not surprisingly, the 27-year-old by his own admission is now a designated opener and a tidy wicketkeeper, an option India can always bank upon.
Uthappa's promising start combined with his selfless and unconditional approach needed to be nurtured; however, selection policies in India often come without any warning and his exclusion from the side meant the right-hander hasn't featured in an ODI in close to five years. He has had to struggle throughout his journey in the Indian cricket set-up and in IPL 6 he may just find opportunity in adversity. Time has come for the selectors to keep a watch on this young man who lost out on his peak time on. If Rohit and Ishant Sharma can be persisted with despite average performances, why not show more faith in India's World Twenty20 winner?
Talent banks on nurturing and opportunity. While Uthappa has been fortunate to find the right tutoring, training and teachings since his formative years, the opportunities have eluded the hard-working cricketer. His impact in the middle remains his biggest strength as a batsman. It's not just the runs he gets, but the rate at which he gets them. Without drawing any comparisons, his approach is much similar to Virender Sehwag. It's about scoring quickly only to ensure the strike rate compliments their healthy average.
Continuous effort is the key to unlocking potential and Uthappa's hard yards in the middle is an indication of his preparation. Thanks to the IPL, this Indian discard is not a forgotten hero. Even though his performance reminds the cricket fan of his belligerence in his batting, it has unfortunately failed to ring the door bells of the selectors.
Uthappa's IPL innings has helped the batsman realise his strength, understand his potential and evolve as a cricketer. His desperation is likely to translate into runs. While representing Royal Challengers Bangalore, he was able to make a great impact but sadly, ever since he has been with Pune Warriors, his constant shuffling in the batting order has meant he has been without a defined role.
Uthappa will be aware of the importance that IPL 6 holds for him. This isn't his last chance but clearly this is his best chance. Thanks to the IPL, Indian cricket has reached a phase of unparalleled competitive balance and every season produces quite a few finds, reason enough for most of the discards to impress with their consistency. Uthappa finds himself in make or remake situation.
He may not have set the stage on fire this season in the domestic circuit, but he has produced some decent performances. He finished with 683 runs in nine Ranji Trophy games with five fifties and one hundred at an average of 45.53. More importantly, his seven games in the Vijay Hazare Trophy fetched him 445 runs, which included two centuries and two fifties at an average of 63.57. In the process he topped the run-getters' list as well this season.
Time has come for the selectors to keep a watch on a batsman who has consistently translated his talent into runs. Uthappa remains an asset and his result-oriented and effective batting style can turn into a match-winning option for the Indian cricket team.