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IPL in the UAE: Uthappa backs Kolkata Knight Riders for a strong start

Abu Dhabi: Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) were among the first of the Indian Premier League (IPL) franchises to arrive in the UAE and they wasted no time in getting a feel of the Shaikh Zayed Cricket Stadium turf on Wednesday ahead of their first match against defending champions Mumbai Indians next week.

With the IPL still under the spotlight following last year’s spot-fixing saga, organisers are following strict protocol, with the media not allowed close to the pitch.

KKR were without skipper Gautam Gambhir, Jacques Kallis, Chris Lynn, Yusuf Pathan, Pat Cummins and Sunil Narine, but they had a good four-hour training and extended nets session under the floodlights. Gambhir and Kallis were scheduled to reach the capital late on Wednesday.

First to pad-up was KKR’s new recruit Robin Uthappa and the Bangalorean batsman gave enough evidence that he was keen on stretching his domestic form into the IPL by hitting some lusty blows.

“As a Karnataka team we won all that we could have in domestic cricket and I feel very proud to be a meaningful contributor. I scored some runs and I’m very happy and looking forward to the IPL season,” said a leaner and fitter Uthappa, who was with the now-defunct Pune Warriors last season. “I’m not old, I’m only 28. The good thing is I started early and can still comeback into the Indian team set-up.”

Uthappa last figured in a Twenty20 International match for India in 2012 against South Africa in Johannesburg.

“I have come back into reckoning after coming into form in the domestic scene. I have worked a lot on my technique and, having played in a team like Pune, I have realised the importance of not throwing away your wicket once you get starts,” said Uthappa, who has played 11 T20Is and 38 One Day Internationals.

Of KKR’s chances in IPL-7 — which takes place in the UAE from April 16 to 30 before switching to India — Uthappa said: “We are a very good side and it is good to be here in UAE as well. I was part of the [India] team that played two ODIs here in Abu Dhabi against Pakistan in 2006 [the Wisden DLF Cup]. So yes I’m very much familiar with the wicket here. It is a bit slow but it will be similar conditions like back home in India.”

The IPL opener between Kolkata and Mumbai next Wednesday is expected to be a cracker of a game in front of a packed house and Uthappa was confident that his side could get across the line against the reigning champions Mumbai Indians, who will be starting a new era without retired legend Sachin Tendulkar.

“The teams are very different each season and you cant go preparing like you have played that team before. A bunch of them [Mumbai Indians] are the same but it is again a different unit. Sachin is not there anymore so it is a big loss for them. You can be a champion one season and not in the top four the next. Anything is possible and we are confident of doing well from the start,” he said.