CHENNAI: Chennai Super Kings‘ acquisition of Robin Uthappa was a low-key affair considering it took place outside the auctions as a trade from Rajasthan Royals, but the three-time IPL champions bagged an experienced batsman who is in a rich vein of form. Uthappa, who now plays for Kerala in domestic cricket, is among the top 10 run-getters in the Vijay Hazare Trophy this season with 377 runs at an average of 75.4 and strike-rate of 131.81.
Uthappa’s recent returns have infused him with confidence ahead of his stint with his sixth IPL franchise. His runs for Kerala have come as an opener and his success in the IPL too – most notably for Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) – came when he was batting at the top of the order. It makes Uthappa’s position clear: he wants to open the batting and win matches for CSK rather than bat in the middle-order.
“I would definitely like to play as an opener. It is where I naturally thrive. Getting the team off to a good start and winning matches for the team is what I am most comfortable doing. In the last few years, people have tried to use me in positions that I am not necessarily good at. It is probably why you have seen a dip in performance. But whenever I have opened the batting, I have done really well,” Uthappa told TOI during a chat on Wednesday.
Uthappa will have to battle for the opening slot with young Ruturaj Gaikwad, who finished last season promisingly, and the experienced Faf du Plessis. With Uthappa and MS Dhoni going back a long way – 2004 to be precise – the latter will know how to get the best out of the 35-year-old.
“I have got the fondest memories with Dhoni. We met for the first time during a Challenger Trophy campaign and played an NCA (National Cricket Academy) match together around 2004. We were very close when we were playing for India together. Since then, we have always been in touch. Our families are pretty close to each other as well. Our relationship has grown over the years. Even our kids are friends today,” reflected the man from Karnataka.
As CSK intensify their preparation for the IPL, the players will have to adapt to the fact that they will not be playing at the spin-friendly MA Chidambaram Stadium. It was a factor that hurt their chances in the UAE last year. The acquisitions of K Gowtham and Moeen Ali in the recent auction were also done with the conditions in mind, but Uthappa is satisfied that it is at least a level playing field with no team getting the luxury of home conditions.
“It is definitely a level playing field since no team is playing at home. As we are playing in India, spin will still play a role, especially at the back end of the tournament. It is unfortunate that we are not playing at home and in front of our fans, but home advantage is being nullified for all teams,” he said.