A year ago, Robin Uthappa, playing for the now-defunct Pune Warriors, was a speck in the background as Royal Challengers Bangalore's powerhouse batsman Chris Gayle pummeled his team into submission with a record-breaking 175 not out.
Uthappa himself wasn't doing too badly and was a handy player at the top of the order for Pune, providing them with aggressive starts. He ended the season as the 12th-highest runscorer, with 434 runs in 16 matches at 27.12. Inconsistency and a visibly unfit body had ensured he remained far away from the spotlight.
A year later, a lot has changed for Uthappa.
On Sunday, Kolkata broke into the top four following a facile nine-wicket win over table-toppers Kings XI Punjab. The 2012 champions at one point had lost four games on the trot and were down in the doldrums, but successive wins over the Delhi Daredevils and Punjab meant that they have clawed their way back into reckoning for the knockouts.
Much of the credit for KKR's late boost up the table has been given to skipper Gautam Gambhir, who has now recorded three consecutive fifties after starting the season with three successive ducks. Sunil Narine is also among the leading wicket-takers of the season.
But what about Uthappa? What has he been doing?
A lot, now that you ask.
Halfway through the current season, the Karnataka batsman has already tallied 302 runs in nine matches at a healthier average of 33.55 for the Kolkata Knight Riders, including two half-centuries and three scores of 40-plus.
This season's Uthappa is a leaner, fitter, stronger and modified version of last year. He has shed about 20 kilograms and lost all the extra weight he had on his upper body.
The one thing that hasn't changed is his continued presence in the background. However, in this case, he is no speck. Not by a mile.
He has made changes to his batting style, most noticeably to his stance. The earlier closed and upright one is long gone. Uthappa now can be seen crouching lower at the point of delivery, which has made him a lot more flexible while going for his shots.
Ever since this Uthappa 2.0 has been unleashed, he hasn't been able to stop scoring runs.
In his first competitive fixture following last year's IPL, he scored a triple-century playing for the Karnataka State Cricket Association XI in the local Safi Darashah Trophy.
He was then picked for the India A teams and the Board President's XI side that played against New Zealand A, West Indies A and Australia, in which he scored a century before a hamstring injury ruled him out of the domestic season for a while.
Uthappa's first game after his return from injury was the quarterfinals of the Ranji Trophy, India's premier first-class cricket tournament. Here, he rescued Karnataka from a precarious position against Uttar Pradesh with another determined century, which set up his team's win.
Karnataka went on to win the trophy.
Uthappa gives all the credit for his resurgence to Pravin Amre, a former India cricketer who is now into coaching. Uthappa hired Amre as a personal batting coach following last year's IPL. The results are there to see.
Choosing to work with Amre sir was my best decision. He is someone who practically helped me change my game, from where it used to be to where it is now. I am very grateful to him. He has worked hard with me and has been patient. I know him since my days with the junior Indian team. There is a certain comfort level which I don't share with anyone else. As his pupil, I have complete faith and trust in him. He gave me things on the platter and asked me to pick whatever I like the most, which is what I have done.
He sure has, what with his last few scores in the IPL reading 47, 65, 47 and 46, all at the top of the order, where he believes he delivers best.
KKR had experimented with him batting lower down to provide the team with late boosts in the death overs. However, ever since he first opened this season, against Chennai Super Kings, scoring 47, he has looked at home and extremely comfortable in his role.
Uthappa has shared two century partnerships with Gambhir already, along with another fifty-run stand on Sunday. He is the aggressor in the pairing, albeit quite different from the see-ball-hit-ball type last year.
Uthappa is now much more restrained in his shot-selection, but has still managed to maintain a healthy strike rate of over 125.
So then, why isn't he being given enough credit for it? Why has all the talk about a possible return to the Indian team been only associated with Gambhir?
Well, possibly because many people may have assumed that he's too old now since he's been there forever.
Here's some news for you: Uthappa is only 28.
It's true that he's been around forever, but he's been playing for India out of his under-19 days. His debut for the national team was in 2006, at the age of 20.
That being said, Uthappa last played for India in a rain-interrupted Twenty20 International against South Africa in March 2012. His last one-day international appearance was back in 2008. He is yet to play a Test.
However, if this Uthappa 2.0 continues with his prolific runscoring ways, there's no stopping him from barging into Team India. Until then, sit back and enjoy his lovely waltzes down the track and wonderfully classy drives.
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