Every time anyone mentions Mohammad Kaif, almost every Indian cricket fan is reminded of the epic 2002 Natwest Series final against England at Lord’s when Kaif and Yuvraj Singh stitched a match-winning partnership, and helped India chase down the target of 326 from the brink of defeat. Overnight, the duo were hailed as the new heroes of Indian cricket. But with the presence of big batting stalwarts like Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Virender Sehwag, Sourav Ganguly, VVS Laxman, Kaif and Yuvraj could not become regular members of the Test team. In a recent interview, Kaif reflected back on his Test career, and said that he was rushed into the longest format of the game.
“The Indian team at that time was full of big players like Sachin, Dravid, Sehwag. So I and Yuvraj could not play many Tests, even though Yuvraj got more chances than me,” Kaif, who played 13 Tests for India, told Times of India.
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“I got a chance to play against England in Nagpur (in 2006) when someone got injured and I scored 91. Then that guy got fit and I was dropped again. So that team was so strong that I didn’t get many chances to play. They were the greats of the game, legends, players like Sachin, Dravid, inspired us,” Kaif said.
Under Kaif’s captaincy, India U-19 team won the U-19 World Cup after defeating Sri Lanka in Colombo in 2000. After that he received a Test call and made his debut against South Africa in 2000 in Bengaluru.
“I was surprised at the Test call-up. Since it was India’s first Under-19 World Cup title victory, there was a lot of media hype. There was a Challenger tournament in which most of the Under-19 players got a chance to play. I had two scores in the 90s in back-to-back matches that I played, then I was named in the Indian Test side,” he recalled.
“But I think I was hurried into Test cricket, I was just 20 and to face someone like Allan Donald, Shaun Pollock, Nantie Hayward, they had some serious pace. It was a learning experience for me, just like a new swimmer is thrown into the deep and asked to help himself,” he added.
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“So to be honest, I think I was not ready to face that kind of pace, which I had never faced (before). They were bowling a lot of bouncers and here in domestic cricket the ball hardly bounces and we can drive easily. That was a big difference. Then I got dropped and then I worked very hard and made my ODI debut against England at my home ground Kanpur. Those two years gave me time to learn how to play at the international level,” Kaif further said.
“I came back hard, I came back prepared after playing some domestic matches. I think sometimes selectors tend to rush with young players based on the name and the hype and seeing the Indian team losing, a new player is thrown into international cricket and sometimes it does more harm than good,” he said.