Mohammad Kaif: One of Sourav Ganguly’s finest finds for India

Being talented is one thing, but identifying someone s true potential requires a talent as well. Sourav Ganguly was one such captain for the team who had the knack of identifying the match-winners. He brought a whole new bunch of cricketers for India, noticing their ability in the domestic circuit or U-19 tournaments. Everyone talks about how he shaped the careers of Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh, Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer Khan. However, there was one more batsman from Uttar Pradesh who had a memorable outing under the Bengal Tiger s captaincy. Mohammad Kaif impressed Ganguly by winning many matches at crucial junctures. Also Read: 16 interesting things to know about one of India s best fielders ever Mohammad Kaif

Hailing from Allahabad, Kaif made a good name for himself at the domestic level. He led India to glory in the ICC U-19 World Cup in 2000. Being an astute reader of the game, Ganguly knew that Kaif was well versed with the game, both as player and captain, as he had led the nation in an ICC tournaments at a very young age; hence encouraged his presence in the One-Day International (ODI) team. Kaif was always an energetic fielder, and there was never a dull moment for the team whenever he played. Seeing the dearth of quick movers in his side, Ganguly gave Kaif a good run under his watchful eyes. Being an average fielder himself, Ganguly also learned the importance of fielding with Kaif at his disposal.

With Yuvraj placed at point and Kaif in the covers area, the opposition batsmen found it tough to get the ball past them. This greatly increased the importance of fielding in the team. Slowly and steadily, India moved up the ranks with other teams. Apart from being a live wire on the field, he had a habit of lifting the spirits of his teammates when the match was going out of grip or heading for a close finish. These small but essential qualities are required in every team. Today, it is Suresh Raina who does the same for the Indian ODI team. Also Read: 24 mindboggling stats about one of India’s greatest captains Sourav Ganguly

Talking about his batting, he was a regular at No.3 or No.4 for his domestic teams, but sadly, due to stiff competition and presence of established cricketers playing alongside, Kaif settled in lower-middle order. Before India found MS Dhoni as their finisher, Kaif did a decent job for the team with his late onslaughts. Sure, he was not a brutal hitter of the cricket ball, but he kept on nudging the balls in the gap and ran like a true sprinter. He used to keep a close watch on the field settings and placed accordingly. He could play defensively as well as aggressively, as per the demands of the situations.

Being the crisis man or finisher , he bailed India out on many occasions when experts had written India off. The memorable final of the NatWest series, against England, is remembered by every Indian fan till date. That was India s only win in a final of a tri-series under Ganguly. Chasing a mammoth target of 326 in 50 overs, India were 146 for 5 when Kaif and Yuvraj played one of their most mature knocks and took the team out of the woods. When Yuvraj took some risks, Kaif kept the scoreboard moving by converting ones into twos, twos into threes, along with some occasional boundaries. He tested the stamina of the English players to the fullest. Also Read: 15 memorable quotes on Sourav Ganguly by cricket legends

After Yuvraj fell at 69, Kaif went unaffected by the loss of his partner, as, by then, he had spent a lot of time at the crease tiring the England fielders and started flexing his muscles by ocassionally playing the big shots. He displayed a very smart brand of cricket and anchored the innings till the end to take the team past the finish line. Another such incident, which is less talked about, was during India s ICC Champions Trophy s first game against Zimbabwe. Coming in at 87 for 5, Kaif again repaired the team s sinking ship along with Rahul Dravid and scored 111 not out. India defended 275 and won the match by 14 runs.

https://twitter.com/KaifSays/status/751316218020179968

Having a moderate average of 32.01 and 32.84 in ODIs and Tests respectively, he lost his place due to an aggressive player like Dhoni. The fans and pundits of the game always mention his name along with players such as Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj, among others, who enjoyed a good stint under Ganguly. He has also, repeatedly, credited his captain for playing a massive role in revamping his career. It is not that every player plays for a long time, but Kaif made an impact in his short Test career (with one lone century against West Indies) and an ODI career that spanned for around four years. He was and will remain one of Ganguly s fine finds.

The article first appeared in CricketCountry

(Aditya Sahay is a journalist with CricketCountry who is completely into sports and loves writing about cricket in general. He can be followed on Twitter at adisahay7)