Think of Mohammad Kaif and the memory that flashes across the mind is that of July 13, 2002. Needing 326 to win the NatWest Trophy final against England, India were in the doldrums at 146 for five after 24 overs, before Kaif and Yuvraj Singh scripted an epic partnership to snatch an unforgettable win.
Kaif’s batting — based more on grafting than grace — went through the ups and downs after that, but his brilliant manning of the cover cordon made him an inseparable part of the ODI side. Chances to play Tests were few and far between, but he did make a match-saving 91 against England in Nagpur in 2005-06. Before that, Kaif had cobbled together a couple of half-centuries against Australia in the 2004-05 home series which India lost.
Kaif’s best chance to cement a place in the Test XI came on the 2006 tour of the Caribbean where Sachin Tendulkar was injured and Sourav Ganguly dropped. He worked hard for his maiden hundred in the 2nd Test but never made it to the Test side again after the remaining two matches of that series.
Kaif’s ODI career also came to a similar halt after a series of failures in South Africa in 2006-07 where every other Indian batsmen had cut an equally sorry figure. Few remembered that earlier in 2006 in the West Indies, the workmanlike batsman was India’s second-highest scorer with 205 runs in five matches at 51.25 with three fifties.
Undaunted, he continued to score heavily in domestic cricket and turned Uttar Pradesh from a bunch of no-hopers to a formidable force. Under his leadership, the one-time whipping boys won their maiden Ranji Trophy title, in 2005-06, and went on to reach the final twice more. Almost single-handedly, he instilled fighting spirit in the team.
But lows kept chasing Kaif after the highs and after being bought by the Rajasthan Royals in the inaugural year of the IPL, he was dumped in the second season. Luck, however, smiled on him again when the Kings XI Punjab roped him in for the upcoming third IPL and, despite having an average Ranji season (356 runs in eight matches at 27.38), Kaif impressed with a double century and a century in the Duleep Trophy. When HT contacted him, Kaif refused to say anything officially. Doesn’t matter, because Kaif has got his bat to do the talking once again.