Mohammad Kaif, a cricketer who could earn a spot in the team on the strength of his fielding alone, chose a landmark day to announce his retirement from all forms of the game.
Sixteen years after he played a crucial part in India’s successful chase of 326, recovering from a precarious 146 for five to win the NatWest Trophy final against England, Kaif opted to walk into history after figuring in 13 Tests and 125 ODIs — 10229 runs in 186 First Class matches.
“I leave with a few regrets but with pride. I could have done nothing other than play cricket. My father (Mohammad Tarif) was a cricketer and he was my hero. So I too played cricket,” he said.
Hailing from Allahabad, Kaif, who played his last international match at the age of 26, played exceptionally for Uttar Pradesh. “It was tough. We were referred to as a team of bhaiyyas , mocked by big teams, incapable of playing cricket, a game of lords and gentlemen. But we did well. We beat Mumbai in Mumbai (twice), and won the Ranji Trophy (2005-06). The journey from an unsung college hostel has been memorable,” said an emotional Kaif.
“Playing with some of the illustrious names in international cricket and changing the mindset of the Uttar Pradesh team are among my special memories. The NatWest win, triumphs against Pakistan in Pakistan, facing the hat-trick ball from Waqar Younis (at Centurion Park in the 2003 World Cup) are so vivid. My early years under coach John Wright, when the team was coming up, shall remain the golden phase of my career,” he added.
Among Kaif’s best was an unbeaten 111 against Zimbabwe at Colombo in 2002. India, reeling at 87 for five, was rescued by Kaif and Rahul Dravid and went on to win. “It was a privilege to play in that team with some of the greatest stalwarts. I count myself fortunate and blessed.”
And the catch at Karachi in 2004. “I won’t be able to repeat that. It was game changing (catching Shoaib Malik behind bowler Zaheer Khan’s back).”
He also remembered his coaches Sarkar Talwar and Roger Binny, and his brief foray into politics contesting unsuccessfully for Lok Sabha. Now concentrating on a career in commentating, Kaif summed it up saying, “I have to be involved with cricket.”