Bangalore: His first exposure to limelight and the resultant scrutiny happened at the Chinnaswamy Stadium, here, in March 2000. Mohammad Kaif, then a nervous 19-year-old debutant, scored 12 and 23 in a lost cause as South Africa defeated India by an innings and 71 runs to clinch the two Test series 2-0. Kaif's runs may have been meagre but they were doughty efforts against a pace attack that was led by Allan Donald and Shaun Pollock. It was also a match in which Mohammad Azharuddin scored a breezy 102 his last Test innings.
Kaif then embarked on a roller-coaster ride that left him dumped from the Test squad. He then found a second wind as a one-day specialist and to complete the circle, Kaif again pressed his claims for a permanent Test slot with an unbeaten 148 against the West Indies in the second Test at St. Lucia this summer.
"I started afresh when I went to the West Indies. May be confidence wise I was a little low as I didn't have many big innings behind me but I was sure that if I followed the routine and enjoyed being out there I would do well. I played a practise match, got a 49, understood the conditions and built on that confidence," Kaif said.
Kaif has so far played 13 Tests intermittently that yielded 624 runs and 119 one-dayers with 2673 runs. Kaif believes that he has turned a corner with his maiden Test century at St. Lucia and is hopeful of better performances in the coming months. And finally Kaif the batsman seems to be getting his due over Kaif the athletic fielder.
However he has no qualms in the excess attention bestowed on his prowl from point to covers. "I am proud of the effort I put in the field and I think the best fielding side will win the World Cup. It feels good when you talk about Kaif being a good fielder, talk about Yuvraj being a good fielder. Now I can say that it took a while but with the kind of form I am in with the bat, especially after the West Indies tour, I have got something to build upon in the future. I scored my first Test century there at St. Lucia and now I got to keep scoring runs," Kaif said.
The Uttar Pradesh captain also added a touch of perspective and philosophy when he discussed his early days when he was dropped from the Test squad. "Obviously it was a good thing to be dropped early in my career. It helped me work on my weaknesses and come back as a better player.''
``I think at some stage in everybody's career you need some kind of experience like this to get some time off. In those days, I played Sri Lanka when I was quite young and I was facing Murali, I couldn't click. Coming back I realised what needs to be done to succeed at the highest level," Kaif said.
Kaif displayed a calm demeanour when queried on his on-and-off presence in the playing eleven in Tests.
"It (being dropped) can affect but depends on how smart you are to handle such situations. It is important to hang in there, keep working hard and be positive. But yes it is tough when you don't get matches in a row.
On and off, getting dropped is tough. It is not the same as when you are scoring runs and keep getting matches and you are in the flow.If you ask any player it is not easy sitting out of the team."
Fresh batch starts practice
Meanwhile, the fresh batch of five players M.S. Dhoni, Suresh Raina, Sreesanth, Munaf Patel and R.P. Singh assembled at the National Cricket Academy (NCA) here on Saturday for their three-day training stint. The players had an interactive session with coach Greg Chappell and the support staff inside the NCA, before having their practise sessions at the KSCA (B) Ground. M.S. Dhoni and Suresh Raina squared up to bio-mechanist Ian Frazer and trainer Gregory King respectively. The duo, wielding a stump for a bat, had to cope with golf balls pelted on a cement pitch that tested their concentration and ball-sighting skills. Dhoni did miss a few from Frazer but also managed to cart a few into the far tree-lined fence. A straight punch rocketing off the turf being the pick.