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
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
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.