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Warriors hope Uthappa steps up in hour of crisis

What is a ‘good’ Twenty20 strike rate? With the format yet to shed its milk teeth,it isn’t easy to pin down a cut-off. And this hypothetical cut-off cannot be the same for an opening batsman and someone expected to walk in at number seven and blast away for an over and a half

Written by Karthikkrishnaswamy | Pune | Published: May 3, 2012 1:33:20 am

What is a ‘good’ Twenty20 strike rate? With the format yet to shed its milk teeth,it isn’t easy to pin down a cut-off. And this hypothetical cut-off cannot be the same for an opening batsman and someone expected to walk in at number seven and blast away for an over and a half.

But it might be easier to home in on one number for top-order batsmen expected to spend a decent amount of time at the crease. Of the top ten run-getters in IPL 2012,eight have strike rates of over 130. Well over 130,in fact – the eighth slowest on that list,Chennai Super Kings opener Faf du Plessis,has scored his runs at 138.01 runs per 100 deliveries.

A significant gap separates du Plessis from the two slowest scorers on that list — Pune Warriors’ Robin Uthappa (119.60) and Rajasthan Royals skipper Rahul Dravid (116.02). The question that emerges from this exercise is — how effective are the likes of Uthappa and Dravid to their teams?

But before that it is important to look at the roles they play in their respective batting line-ups. Dravid is expected to stay at the crease and build partnerships with the likes of Ajinkya Rahane,Owais Shah and Brad Hodge to ensure that a slightly suspect Rajasthan Royals lower-middle order isn’t called upon too soon.

Uthappa isn’t that sort of batsman. Pune spent $2.1 million to land his signature last year,on the basis of a phenomenal 2010 season with Royal Challengers Bangalore that saw him score 374 runs in 14 innings at 31.16,with a strike rate of 171.55. The prospect of having such a fearsome striker of the ball in their ranks,with the ability to keep wickets thrown into the mix,led to a frenzied bidding war between the Pune and Kochi franchises to secure Uthappa.

It’s the same idea — an explosive batsman who can keep wicket — that has kept the national selectors interested in Uthappa whenever they need to pick a Twenty20 squad. While he hasn’t played an ODI since July 2008,Uthappa has featured in two recent T20 internationals — against England at home last October and against South Africa at Johannesburg in March.

But since moving to Pune,Uthappa’s explosive potential has mostly remained dormant. The 2011 season brought him 264 runs in 13 innings,with no fifties and a strike rate of 126.31. He was scoring runs,but his scores weren’t big enough,and his cameos weren’t swift enough,for those runs to make a real impact on Pune’s fortunes.

That pattern has continued through this season as well,and has intensified over the course of Uthappa’s last three visits to the crease. The first of these was at home against Delhi,when he and Manish Pandey came together at one for two and put on an unbroken 144 to take Pune to 146 for two. The wicket was slow,and shotmaking was difficult,but Uthappa’s 58-ball 60 not out still seemed an odd sort of innings – especially when set against Pandey’s 56-ball 80 not out and Virender Sehwag 48-ball 87 not out.

When Uthappa walked in against Deccan Chargers at the same venue,Pune were 43 for two in 5.2 overs chasing 178 to win. They needed more than nine an over at that stage,but neither Uthappa (29 off 27 balls) or his partner Ganguly (23 off 20) could provide them that sort of momentum.

In the return fixture at Cuttack,Pune faced another big run chase,and needed 91 from 44 balls when Uthappa walked in. When he was dismissed,they needed a near-impossible 31 from seven. Steven Smith had injected his share of urgency into Pune’s chase,but Uthappa’s 18-ball 26 contained only one four and one six.

It’s harsh to blame Uthappa alone for Pune’s sluggish spells with the bat. Pune’s top four contains another Twenty20 slowpoke in Sourav Ganguly,whose 195 runs have come at a strike rate of 107.14. At five or six,Marlon Samuels has scored his 124 runs at 100.81.

Following Michael Clarke’s arrival,it is Samuels who finds his place in the eleven most under threat (he retained his place at Cuttack only because a stomach bug ruled Jesse Ryder out). But a Clarke-for-Samuels swap only represents a partial solution to Pune’s batting worries. For both Ganguly and Uthappa to remain in the top four,one of them will need to start scoring quicker.

* PWI vs MI,Live on Set Max 8 pm

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