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Kaif gets a berth in India's Test team

Kaif will be one of the top six batsmen to represent India in the forthcoming two Tests against Zimbabwe.

india Updated: Sep 10, 2005 18:04 IST

Mohammad Kaif will be one of the top six batsmen to represent India in the forthcoming two Tests against Zimbabwe. Only on this occasion he does not want to go out in a hurry.

Kaif has so far turned up in seven Tests but between his first and the latest, India has played no less than 53 games in over five years. His seven Tests too have been spread over three blocks. But now it could all change.

On the face of it, Kaif is just filling in for Sachin Tendulkar in the middle order in Zimbabwe but he did the same in Sri Lanka in 2001 where three Tests came his way. It was the same against Australia last season when again three more Tests were logged on to his career. This time though he looks more than just an errand boy.

Kaif now is demanding reappraisal from everyone. He has improved as a batsman and he is proving to be a great finisher. But for Rahul Dravid, not many in Indian Test line-up possess these two virtues.

That Kaif has improved was obvious in the recent triseries. He made a patient 65 against Zimbabwe and then had a century and a near-hundred against New Zealand.

Coming at number three, he batted till the final overs and gave credence to what Ajay Jadeja, a batsman of similar nuances, has always held about him.

"He probably might not be as talented as somebody like Yuvraj Singh but once set, he carries on till the end," gushed Jadeja.

This has been obvious -- but what Kaif has now shown is a revelation. He has begun to drive down the ground.

No longer is the reliance on just tucking the ball round the corner, nudging it through the slips and an occasional heave to midwicket. Now there are sumptuous drives through the off-cordon and a few of his shots through mid-on have been breathtaking.

"He is now feeling more confident in the weight transfer of his body position. There is more reliance on his front foot and thus he is backing himself to reach the ball and drive it down the ground," said Ian Frazer, the bio-mechanic expert and a member of the support staff who at the moment seems to be holding a mirror to the techniques of our frontline bowlers and batsmen.

Kaif agrees: "As a batsman, you don't want to give bowlers the feeling that they have worked you out. You don't want them to work on your weaknesses. You want to be ready for all situations. If possible, you must look to put them under tactical siege."

A regular in one-dayers, Kaif has been a talent unfulfilled. He may have had sporadic chances, but his 294 runs at 24.50 has not been a good report card for promotion. But now two things are simultaneously working in his favour.

India's top order is not as foolproof as it once was and then he seems to be a batsman who has now come of age.

Kaif can never be thankful enough to Greg Chappell and company who call him to bat at number three in one-day internationals these days.

From number six where he had only a handful of overs, he now has almost the entire innings to manoeuvre for himself.

Kaif is indeed offering selectors an alternative in the wobbly middle-order.

The Indian middle order is gaining in years -- the Tendulkars, Gangulys, Dravids and Laxmans are all approaching mid-30s -- and amid these Kaif appears to be the prince in waiting.

India does not play the next Test series till December but thereafter a flurry of engagements await them. They play Tests in succession against Pakistan, England and the West Indies.

Kaif, inevitably, will be a part of these squads, lurking in the background and scenting his opportunity.

First Published: Sep 10, 2005 18:04 IST