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Uthappa needs to stay till the end

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Robin_Uthappa_IPL_Kolkata_Knight_Riders_India_CricketIt was a surprise decision by Kolkata Knight Riders to retain only 2 of their players, and that too overseas players. A team that relied quite heavily on its core Indian bunch settled on keeping Sunil Narine and Andre Russell, raising a few eyebrows. The prominent names that missed the retention list were their talismanic captain Gautam Gambhir, the flamboyant Robin Uthappa and the steady/flashy Manish Pandey.

While Kolkata let Gambhir go, they battled hard to keep Manish Pandey, but had to give in to the resurgent Hyderabad who were ready to break their bank to get the Karnataka batsman in their side. But just as Robin Uthappa’s name showed up, everyone knew Kolkata could not let him go. Out came the Right to match card, taking the player away from Mumbai Indians. Kolkata didn’t do too well at the auction.

Uthappa found himself sandwiched between a flashy top order and a rather inexperienced lower order with Dinesh Karthik the only experienced name. Punters had put money on Uthappa leading the side and though Karthik won the role of captain, Uthappa was supposed to lead and anchor the batting lineup.

10 matches into the IPL for Kolkata and Uthappa hasn’t been the player everyone expected him to be. He has played a few cameos, but otherwise failed to tick along and finish games, a role that everyone expected of him as one of the most experienced players in the side. And though Kolkata has managed to do well, it has been down to a few other likely and unlikely heroes.

Uthappa has managed to score 259 in 10 games at an average of 25.90 and a strike rate of 143.88, with just one 50 in the season, that too when he got an extra life.

His average over the last 3 seasons average to around 30 with a Strike Rate of close to 150. It is the Uthappa from the 2014 season that the Knight Riders wish to see: he averaged 44 and hit at a strike rate of 138.

In the 2018 edition, Uthappa had a tough start to the IPL as he faced a fiery Umesh Yadav. He never looked comfortable and was finally caught on 13. The next game, he got going against the Chennai Super Kings, but a mix-up with Dinesh Karthik led to his wicket falling. He still managed a cameo, scoring 29 off 16 balls.

Uthappa was then promoted against the Sunrisers to take on the mighty attack of Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Billy Stanlake, but the wicketkeeper-batsman failed to get going and lasted just 8 balls. He was resurgent against Delhi Daredevils and looked threatening before throwing his wicket away after scoring 35 off just 19 balls. His next 2 scores were 48 and 34, and though they came at a brisk pace, this wasn’t the ideal scenario for the Knight Riders, as they were hoping for their star batsman to take them over the line.

But there were still positives from the last couple of innings and it just seemed like a matter of time before Uthappa got in his own and took up the responsibility. But his problems against fast, short bowling were on display. Boult and Asif made the most of it as they sent him back to the hut for scores of 1 and 6 on either side of a 21 ball 36 against the Royal Challengers, where Murugan Ashwin outfoxed the swashbuckling batsman. Though he needed another life to do it, Uthappa managed to get his first 50 in the IPL against the Mumbai Indians. But the same old problem returned as he failed to finish the game and the other batters couldn’t live up to the challenge on the day.

Putting things in perspective, although Kolkata have had other batters show up and take responsibility, Uthappa is their mainstay and needs to fire on a consistent basis and not just score runs, but see off games, something any team expects of their star batsman.

He really needs to sort out his game and throw caution to the wind. He has looked fantastic while he lasts and has played some exhilarating shots, but that is not the only things that Kolkata fans and the franchise expect of him. They expect him to be the leader, take responsibility, make other, younger batsmen bat around him and finish games for them; a role Gautam Gambhir played to perfection for years. But now, with the talismanic captain gone, Uthappa needs to work in that mold. He has strikers around him to up the ante as and when needed. If he does play his natural game, he won’t be bogged down either.

Kolkata are entering into a crucial phase where they need to be clinical to register a place in the playoffs and then go all the way to the title, and their key man is Uthappa.

 

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