Fly, Robin, fly

ROBIN UTHAPPA loves the sight of a speedster's blurred boots, flared nostrils and a red cherry that zooms in to him.

K. C. VIJAYA KUMAR

Robin Uthappa... the man of the final award was an apt reward . — Pic. V. V. KRISHNAN-

ROBIN UTHAPPA loves the sight of a speedster's blurred boots, flared nostrils and a red cherry that zooms in to him. "I watch the ball real close and I love opening," Robin says. The passion for pasting the ball past the ropes has now yielded to a new found patience that whispers `build an innings' in his mind. And it has helped this Robin fly high!

Robin's 88 helped India wade past Sri Lanka's 225 in the Asia Cup under-19 tournament final at Lahore. A `Man of the Final' award was an apt reward to his innings that guided India to an eight-wicket victory in the summit clash. But Robin still lugs around his bag of woes. "I didn't score well in the earlier matches. You must understand that in Pakistan, the ball does a lot in the first one hour and invariably India batted first in all its league engagements. But that is not an excuse, I could have done better in the earlier matches. I must thank coach Robin Singh Sir for his great help," he says.

The Cup triumph lights up Uthappa's eyes. "Winning the Cup was a memorable experience. There is not much difference between our culture and that of Pakistan and I can never forget walking across the Wagah border," says an excited Robin. Introspection weighs in past his expansive smile while he says, "well I scored 88 and it all seems good but when I watched the tapes I was shocked by my initial shuffle! I was moving far too across and exposing my stumps. Need to work on that."

A thinking cap is indeed a welcome addition to Robin's armoury known more for its pulls and cuts that bruised many a bowler as he moved up the age group competitions. Robin's tentative steps into cricket acquired a polished sheen with stints at the Brijesh Patel Cricket Academy and at the Frank Tyson Clinic hosted by the National Cricket Academy. The portly lad then lost 15 kgs and also tempered his free stroking spirit with a `play-the-ball-on-merit' mantra. And with BCCI Talent Resource Development Wing Chairman Dilip Vengsarkar, spotting Robin's talent, the Kodava lad from Suntikoppa in Coorg, boarded the flight to Colombo along with his India Under-17 mates last year.

"I learnt a lot from coach Prasanna Sir and I scored around 300 runs on that tour. We shared the Tri-Series trophy with Sri Lanka after the final was washed out while we beat both Sri Lanka and Bangladesh in the Tests," he says. Robin has been among the runs recently with 112, 144 and 83 against Goa, Kerala and Andhra in the Ghulam Ahmed Trophy tournament that preceeded the Pakistan tour. But wedged behind his pile of runs is a skill that he nurtures silently — wicket-keeping. "I have kept wickets in the junior grades but honestly batting is my first love. I still practise keeping at the nets so that I don't lose track of it," he says.

Playing for the country remains a dream but Robin prefers to stay rooted to he present. "I want to cement my place in the State Ranji squad. And I want to score big runs," says the youngster who played cameos in his two Ranji matches last season for Karnataka. The lad who idolises Steve Waugh and Rahul Dravid, is itching to paint a rich canvas. Hopefully his time will come.