If form is anything to go by, Robin Uthappa has by far been the best Indian batsman this year. He changed the fortunes of the Gautam Gambhir-led Kolkata Knight Riders earlier this year where during an incredible run, the wicket-keeper batsman scored 11 consecutive 40 plus scores, which was a new world record in T20 cricket.
It was his red-hot form, which got him back into the reckoning for the Indian team, after six years.
But when he was included in the Indian squad for the three-match ODI series against Bangladesh earlier this year, it was because the main players had either been rested, or had opted out. The same happened against Sri Lanka, where Uthappa was included for the last two ODIs, as Shikhar Dhawan was rested. Despite scoring heap of runs, for reasons unknown, he wasn't the first choice to open the innings for India in ODIs.
While Uthappa scored 69 runs against Bangladesh in three matches, including a half-century, he managed just 35 runs in two innings against Sri Lanka. Not to forget, in both the matches against the Lankans, Uthappa batted much lower down the order as the top slot was fixed for the likes for Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane. Also, in the 4th ODI against Sri Lanka, Uthappa made sure he gave most of the strike to Rohit, who went on to score a historic knock of 264 runs.
Ajinkya Rahane has been in sensational form for India while opening the innings, but both Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan haven't tasted much success while batting overseas. Since the beginning of this year, while playing away, Rohit has played seven matches and has scored just 218 runs, 79 being his highest score. Dhawan on the other hand has accumulated 264 runs from nine innings, 97 not out being his best against New Zealand. While they have scored some big knocks playing in India, their consistency while playing abroad has cost India dearly.
On the other hand, Uthappa's consistency is known to all. The argument could be that all of Uthappa's runs have come in India. But how is he supposed to score runs overseas, when the selectors stick with the same players, again and again? And how long is he supposed to keep performing in all formats of the game, despite being regularly snubbed by selectors? He has improved his game, technique, temperament, fitness, what else does he need to do to deserve a place in the playing eleven as a first choice?
Even in domestic cricket, Uthappa showed his resurgence as a batsman hitting a century (120) against East Zone followed by scores of 80 and 30 against Central Zone.
Uthappa is no more the batsman he was when he came into the Indian team in 2006. Though his ability to hit seamers over midwicket after charging down the pitch looked quite Hayden-esque, he was dismissed on most of the occasions while attempting similar strokes. Like most of the youngsters, he too was keen to clobber every delivery out of the park. But once he went in exile, he has done everything possible to gain attention from the cricketing cognoscenti.
Over the years, we have seen the best cricket teams use different players for different formats. For example, England used Alex Hales as a T20 specialist for several years. In the bowling department, they used Jade Dernbach as a T20 bowler. During his initial years, David Warner was used as a T20 specialist by Australia and it was only after a few years that he became a regular in all formats of the game. While the Indian team isn’t known for such experiments, the sort of comeback Robin Uthappa has made, he can definitely be used as a limited-overs specialist.
It would be unfair if the selectors judge him on the basis of his knocks in the last two ODIs against the Lankans. They got to rate his overall performance this year, and he should be the frontrunner as an opener for the forthcoming Australian tour and the ICC World Cup.