Soon after 'winning' the Orange Cap from Glenn Maxwell, Kolkata Knight Riders opener Robin Uthappa thanked coach Pravin Amre for his amazing run in the Indian Premier League 2014. With 572 runs in 13 matches this season, Uthappa is the second batsman after Kings XI Punjab star Maxwell (533) to complete 500 runs or more in IPL 7. The former India batsman is now the leading run-getter in the present competition.
"Thank you, coach," an excited Uthappa said soon after KKR thrashed Royal Challengers Bangalore by 30 runs to storm into the playoff stages of the IPL. Uthappa had appointed Amre, the former Indian Test batsman, as his personal coach in 2012. (Match scorecard | Match highlights)
Man of the Match Uthappa struck an unbeaten 83 off 51 balls for his best IPL score this season. It was his 13th IPL fifty and the 20th in T20. More than the runs, it was Uthappa's ability to play all the 20 overs that was critical as he became the first batsman to post eight successive innings of 40 or more in the IPL. (Also read: Kolkata Knight Riders have shed chokers tag, says Gambhir)
"Batting today (at Eden Gardens on Thursday) was not easy but I stuck to the basics. I did not look much at the scoreboard," the 28-year-old Uthappa added. Amre will be proud of his ward's achievement.
"I asked him to play till the end of the 18th over. He gave me the bonus by staying till the end of the innings," Amre told ESPNcricinfo. "My motive for asking him that was because I was sure he would go past Maxwell as the highest run-maker in the tournament. That would give him more satisfaction." (Related: "Our winning streak is no fluke")
The best gift a coach can get is when his pupil translates vision into deeds. Bangalorean Uthappa has been doing just that since he moved to Mumbai and rented an apartment in Khar to find his way back to the Indian team. He last turned out in India colours in a T20 International against South Africa in Johannesburg in March 2012.
Apart from appointing Amre, Uthappa roped in former India physio John Gloster and Arjun Gautam, a mental conditioner. He is probably the first cricketer to hire an entire professional team to improve performance. "So, what we are seeing now is the result of his hard work over two years," Amre said in an interview to Mid-Day.
Uthappa also joined yoga and meditation classes. "He practices meditation which is also very helpful. He has put in all efforts from his side to get back in form. He was consulting a dietician as well and lost 17 kilos. We hired the indoor academy at the Bandra Kurla Complex where we would hold our practice sessions during the monsoons," said Amre, who coached him at Pune Warriors in the last IPL.
With India set to tour Bangladesh for three ODIs in June, Uthappa has served a timely reminder to the national selectors. His last ODI was against Sri Lanka in Karachi in July 2008.
Amre is particularly delighted with the 83 against a quality Bangalore attack. A purist at heart, Amre loves explosive batsmen who have the ability to carry the bat through an innings.
"He was getting the starts but the major challenge was to play all the 20 overs. To stay and play the 120th delivery is the biggest challenge in that format because you have to maintain a particular run-rate. Every pitch is different, every attack is different and to still perform in so many back-to-back matches was really nice to see," Amre told ESPNcricinfo. Amre is now Mumbai's coach.
Amre is happy that KKR let Uthappa return to his opening position. "He has taken the opportunity very well, but there is work to do," Amre cautions. Uthappa's biggest test lies in the play-offs. With every team trying to outdo each other, the pressure will mount and that's where the real test lies.
"The knockout (stage) is a different tournament and that is why he has to keep calm. His contributions will again become important for his team so it is time for him to forget about the league stage and start from scratch," says Amre. Uthappa surely knows his guru mantra.