Relive The Natwest Series Final With Mohammad Kaif
Mohammad Kaif talks about his career’s biggest highlights and yes, it does include the Natwest Final.
Editor: Rahul Sanpui
Camera: Shiv Kumar Maurya
“People thought the game was over but nobody told us to lose the game, me and Yuvraj.”
India were chasing England’s 325 at the Lord’s. Sourav Ganguly was captain, Rahul Dravid had become a wicket-keeper and it was the time of Sachin Tendulkar. Only, Sachin lost his bails to Ashley Giles on 14 and India were reduced to 146/5.
In walked a 21-year-old Mohammad Kaif, joining Yuvraj Singh at the crease Back home in Uttar Pradesh, Kaif’s own family switched off the television and went out to watch a movie. They missed what was to become the cornerstone of Mohammad Kaif’s career. A match and an innings that even now continues to define him. So much so that 16 years later, on the same date –13 July – Kaif chose to announced his decision to retire from all forms of cricket.
The Quint caught up with the 37-year-old and got him to take us back to ‘that’ Natwest final, back to his 11-year-old self who had to leave home to pursue his cricket dreams, back to his first Test century and back to his pep-talk in the Uttar Pradesh team’s dressing room in the season he captained them to their maiden Ranji Trophy title.
Start at the beginning. At 11 you knew you wanted to become a cricketer? How tough was it leaving home at that age to join a hostel just so you could play the game?
I had no choice. I saw my father playing this sport and both my brothers played cricket. I had no choice. I joined a hotel when I was 11. I was missing my family but I had to do the job. The background I came from, sometimes it helps. If you have just one thing to focus on, you give it your all. There is no confusion over there.
‘That’ Natwest Trophy final probably defines your career, doesn’t it? Was it easier for you and Yuvraj to be batting together at that stage, considering you two had known each other for long. You had even led a team with Yuvraj to India’s first-ever Under-19 World Cup just two years back.
Before that match, we had lost many finals and whenever we were chasing, we were not comfortable. Specially abroad and in seaming conditions, playing at Lord’s, it was a big occasion.
Most people thought we would lose the game. When we were 140/5 when Sachin got out, most people thought the game is over but nobody told us to lose the game.
Yuvraj and me had been playing for a long period of time, since we were 16. We played the Under-19 World Cup where we won the title in 2000. Sometimes when you have the understanding, when you have the friendship and you share lighter moments off the ground, that worked very nicely for us when we were under pressure because if I was batting with some senior I might not have been as comfortable as I was with Yuvraj.
I remember Sourav Ganguly came running and he jumped on me. I was not expecting that. To see such kind of celebration from Sourav Ganguly. We all remember the t-shirt he took off. I experienced something else. I experienced his bodyweight on me and he said, ‘Well played Kaifi’.
You had success in the one-day format but your Test career never really took off. Are there any regrets?
I made my first (Test) century in 2006 in West Indies and I thought ‘I’m feeling good, I’m feeling better’. But I didn’t get runs in the next few innings and I never played a Test match again.
If you meet Dravid somewhere, would you ask him why he never gave you another Test cap?
I would do that. Now it is pretty chilled out. I have retired now and players have moved on. Some have become mentors and coaches of teams. I would probably be doing the same thing in the future. So ya, when I meet Rahul I would probably like to sit down and have a nice dinner and chat about what went wrong!
It’s quite ironic but 2006 was the year you played your last international match but it also happens to be the year in which you led Uttar Pradesh to their maiden Ranji Trophy title. What was that season like? How much did you have to change mindsets within the team and not just work on the cricket?
We had to prove a point, we had to win outside UP. Sometimes they take you lightly, ‘UP... bhaiyas’. They are not considered great cricketers. Nobody had made a big mark from UP. There were mostly first-class players. We had this kind of background, people would talk about these things.
I told the boys, ‘When you go to Mumbai you have to make eye contact, you have to play aggressive. You have to show body language. This is the place you want to show off.’
I told them to just go out there and do their job. Of course then we beat Mumbai and then we beat Bengal in the final at Wankhede.
It’s been a while since you were in the Indian dressing room but are you still in touch with your team-mates?
Yuvraj Singh, Bhajji, Zak, Sehwag and then Irfan Pathan came later on. Because we played Under-19 cricket together, we all knew each-other’s nature very well. Me and Bhajji used to make jokes and have fun. Yuvraj Singh was there. Specially people from the North, they want to have fun, they want to be loud. A little bit of indisciplined, I would say.
Compared to the likes to Dravid, Kumble, Srinath, they were very particular and very disciplined. Early to bed, early to rise. But not North Indians so much.
Now that you have called time on your career as a player, what next?
In the future my goal is to be in the field, in the middle. That’s my nature, being out there in the sun – cricket counselling. Players need that, especially young players. Those who want to play for India and play it well. That probably I have been doing for many years.
I played with Raina, RP Singh, Bhuvnesh Kumar, Piyush Chawla, Praveen Kumar, they all made their debuts under my captaincy. So that’s something I would like to do, work with the younger lot in the future.
(This story was first published on 27 July 2018 and has been reposted from The Quint's archives to mark the day India won the NatWest final at Lord’s.)
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