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Mohammed Kaif

Nineteen year old Mohammed Kaif is the latest star on India's batting firmament, with his graceful mien and compact strokeplay being reminiscent of Mohammed Azharuddin in his heyday. Kaif has successfully come through a probation period with various youth tours and signalled his readiness for the highest level of the game during the recent Challenger Trophy.

The Allahabad born Kaif first came to the limelight at the Lombard Challenge Under 15 World Cup in England in August 1996. Vice captain of the team, Kaif scored an unbeaten 54 to guide India to a 5 wicket victory in the semi finals against South Africa. He also produced a standout effort of 85 not out in the league match against the West Indies.

Kaif made his first class debut in the 1997-98 domestic season and quickly established himself in a Uttar Pradesh side that finished runners up in the Ranji Trophy. He scored a century in the quarter final against Haryana and 30 and 62 in the final which UP lost to Karnataka. Kaif got a wider stage to showcase his undoubted talents during the MTN Under 19 World Cup in January 1998 where he scored 251 runs in 6 matches at an average of 62.75.

Kaif finally earned recognition at the senior level earlier this season, being selected on the India A tour of the West Indies. He served notice on the national selectors with scores of 40, 54 and 69 not out against an attack that included Test players like Nixon McLean and Rawl Lewis. But it was his captaincy of the triumphant Indian team in the Under 19 World Cup in Sri Lanka last month that gave him the lasting attention of cricket fans. In one last hurrah at the junior level, Kaif's astute handling of the team and his steady if not spectacular all round performance were key ingredients in the team's success.

Indeed Kaif got his first break as a member of the one-day squad that won the LG Cup in Nairobi earlier in the season, although he was not capped. He got his test cap against South Africa at Bangalore but did not spend enough time in the middle to do justice to himself. However he still showed glimpses of his precocious talent with some wristy onside strokes. With timing, not brute force, being Kaif's forte, he will be willing to wait for a propitious time to make an unambiguous impact.

Having been named to the one day squad against South Africa, this is an opportune moment for Kaif to cement his place in the side in the face of stern competition for a spot in the middle order. But whichever side the coin drops, the unflappable temperament that Kaif is blessed with should enable him, more than anyone else, to deal with equanimity with the swinging pendulum of fortune.

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M Kaif

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