"Nothing gives me more satisfaction than the challenge of opening the batting and seeing off the red cherry," says Robin Uthappa as he relaxes in his Room No. 201 in the Club House at the Karnataka State Cricket Association (KSCA) Stadium on the sidelines of the Under-19 camp for National Cricket Academy trainees in Bangalore.
Uthappa had accumulated 740 runs during Star Cricket Club's (Under-19) recent successful tour of England and Scotland. During the month-long tour, he scored five centuries and an equal number of fifties and was a livewire behind the stumps.
For someone who picked up the passion for the game right from the tender age of nine, recognition has come in the form of selection for coaching scheme in Australia under Border-Gavaskar scholarship scheme. "A great reward for perseverance," says the humble lad from Karnataka.
Right from the days he spent with the Brijesh Patel cricket academy, Robin was touted to be a bright prospect and he grew from strength to strength. He graduated from the Under-13's to the Under-16's and he represented the country in the Under-19 World Cup, in Bangladesh 2004. "I have regrets for not meeting expectations, as I couldn't play up to my potential in the premier event," says Robin who was not happy with his performance in the World Cup where his team bowed out in the semi-finals.
It was the tour to Emerald Island as part of the junior Indian team in 2002 that was decisive in his fledgling career. During the same year, he made his Ranji debut for Karnataka. "It was a great experience to play with seniors like Jack ( Karnataka skipper J Arun Kumar) Venkatesh Prasad and Sunil Joshi. They were very co-operative and made me feel comfortable and counted me as one amongst them".
"For me, anything goes. I can bat, bowl and keep wickets. But my priority is batting and that too as an opener (though he bats at No. 3 for Karnataka) for I relish the challenge of seeing the new ball off," says the 18 year old II B.Com student of Mahavir Jain College.
And when he talks about his College Robin goes ga-ga. "I am surprised to see that when I go to my College, they ask me not to attend classes, but to go for practice! They are very supportive like my parents."
And talking about his family, they too are keen on him pursuing cricket as a career option. "My father used to play hockey. Even I am not averse to hockey stick as I have played it over a period of time. But cricket comes to me naturally," says the agile and diligent Uthappa.
And when posed with the tricky question of keeping wickets, Robin was diplomatic. "It's always nice to master another trade. You don't know when you might need it. At times it comes handy like when Rahul Dravid (who happens to be his role model as well) was asked to don the big glove during his first tour to England."
Does he see wicketkeeping as a ladder through which he could make that giant leap from the Under-19's to wearing national colours, he says, "God willing, Yes, let us hope for the best. I always try to put in maximum effort in whichever role possible".
Like any other budding cricketer, Robin too nurtures the ambition of wearing the national cap. Any regrets on missing the bus for the India 'A' team which has embarked on an African sojourn? "No, Not at all. It's always next time. Opportunities will come my way. I want to keep on playing serious cricket."
On his idol Dravid being asked to keep wickets, Robin says, "It's not that demanding, provided body is willing and as long as you enjoy the job". Reasons for Dravid being up there on his list of idols - "Dravid is a class apart. You can always look upon him for guidance. It is amazing that an international player of his stature comes down and shares his thoughts with us. I also like Matthew Hayden and Steve Waugh. The way they take the fight to the opposition camp."
On being asked about the stint of former England opener Geoff Boycott with NCA trainees, "It will definitely help a lot," came the reply.
A glance at the schedule for the 23 trainees of NCA proved that it was quite tedious. "During the camp I am not even supposed to meet my parents. It is pretty tough out here. But it will help us in the long run."
However, he was quite obliging to spare an hour for us despite the arduous training sessions which run up to hours. "Rarely do we get time to relax. On Wednesday, there is lecture on history of cricket. Hope it doesn't go for long."
When I checked up the schedule, the lecture was to be delivered by one of the pioneers in cricket writing viz - Rajan Bala: 'He talks a lot', I said, to which he responded with a characteristic smile.
"We have a hectic schedule here in the camp. The sessions are gruelling. Emphasis is on fitness as well as building all the right attributes in a cricketer. Venkatesh Prasad, Chandrakant Pandit as well as physio Muthukumar are all well-caring people in their own rights."
Asked whether the camp was similar to the one that was held for senior players prior to the Asia Cup, Robin said: "Off-course almost all the exercises are similar including the yoga sessions. The only difference is the absence of players like Sachin Tendulkar".
But there is one Robin Uthappa!