Robin Uthappa wants Kerala team to play with lot more intent
KOCHI: It was an association bound to happen and years in the making, says Robin Uthappa about joining Kerala as a professional guest player for the new domestic cricket season. The former Karnataka skipper, who has been entrusted with the Kerala captaincy for the Vijay Hazare Trophy one-day tournament, has laid down the marker for his new team that winning championships, not just competing, will be the aim.
"It was bound to happen. I remember telling Sree (Sreesanth) in 2009 or 2010 that once I win the Ranji Trophy with Karnataka if I would ever move out to any other team, it will be Kerala. But for some logistical reasons, it did not happen two years back," Uthappa, who is coming to Kerala following a two-season stint with Saurashtra after he left Karnataka in 2017, told TOI from Bengaluru where the Kerala team was gearing up for the Vijay Hazare Trophy.
Uthappa believes Kerala, who made historic maiden quarterfinal and semifinal appearances in the last two seasons, feels this team can do better. "There is a lot of potential in this group. They are extremely fit. They take pride in staying fit and getting stronger and better. There is a lot of mutual respect and camaraderie within the group. There are three or four guys who can play for India in this Kerala team," he said.
"There are a lot of good friends for me in this team, Sandeep, Basil, Sachin, Sanju, Asif are very close to me. It's a great set-up to be a part of," said Uthappa who is decently fluent in Malayalam as his mother is from Kerala.
After an injury-marred last season with Saurashtra, Uthappa wants to lead by example with the bat. "I want to top the run-scoring chart. But more than that, I want to play a major role in helping the team win championships," said Uthappa, who was the leading batsman in the 2014-15 Ranji season with 912 runs for Karnataka. He was a vital cog in Karnataka team which won the treble of Ranji, Irani, Vijay Hazare trophies in two back-to-back seasons in 2013-14 and 2014-15.
While he acknowledges the talent the Kerala cricketers possess, there are areas where he hopes to bring about a change. "I believe a bit more of intent can be shown. Sometimes, we feel they are easily distracted. When a team is doing well, you need to stay in that bubble. I remember when Kerala reached the Ranji semis last season, a lot of players were giving interviews. That might have led to them getting distracted before the semifinal. In this age of social media, for youngsters, it is easy to lose focus and that could be the difference between winning the Ranji Trophy and not winning it. And as a senior player, I want to make sure that the boys don't get easily distracted," said Uthappa.
Uthappa, 33 now, was a key member of India's 2007 World T20 winning team but not been able to break into the national team after the 2015 Zimbabwe tour. "For me, representing the country again remains the highest source of motivation. But I know I would have to do something exceptional to achieve that. I would need to do twice what a youngster does to earn a call-up to the Indian team at my age. But the fire is still burning," said the man who has played 46 ODIs and 13 T20Is for India.