Whenever India reeled under trouble, a lanky batsman used to take up the responsibility to rescue the team from doldrums. Besides his performance with the willow, he was known for his athleticism on the field, grabbing some of the most difficult catches which left everyone awestruck. Although he could play for only six years, but Mohammad Kaif’s contribution to Indian cricket should not be forgotten. On Thursday, the cool batsman turned 36.
Here are instances when he truly showed why the entire country trusted him as a match-winner.
1. England stunned at Lord’s: This happens to be one of Kaif’s memorable innings so far. In the final of NatWest series in 2002, India were chasing a steep target of 326. Despite a good start by Virender Sehwag and skipper Sourav Ganguly, the Men in Blue found themselves in trouble after wickets started falling at regular intervals. Tottering at 146-5, everyone had written off Dada’s men when Kaif and his India U-19 teammate Yuvraj Singh joined hands. The duo stitched together a crucial 121-run partnership for the sixth wicket as India went on to beat England in the final. Sourav Ganguly waved his shirt from the lobby of Lord’s as soon as Zaheer took the winning two runs. It was indeed a historic moment for India as the Allahabad-born batsman found his way to stardom.
2. India’s own Jonty Rhodes: India were on a roll in the 2003 World Cup played in South Africa. Having defeated England and Pakistan in the league stages, Sourav Ganguly’s men faced neighbour Sri Lanka in the second match of the Super Sixes round. With the help of brilliant knocks by Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly, the runners-up had scored 292 in the stipulated 50 overs. When the Lankans went out to bat, they were undone by brilliant bowling by Zaheer Khan and Javagal Srinath. But it was Kaif who stole the limelight by taking four brilliant catches in the innings. His record stood for 12 years until Bangladesh’s Soumya Sarkar levelled the record in the ICC 2015 World Cup.
3. Kiwis’ feathers clipped: Chasing a modest target of 147 against New Zealand in the Super Six round of ICC World Cup, India soon found themselves in doldrums after slumping to 21 for the loss of three wickets. Often criticised for collapsing at the doorstep of victory, a win against the Kiwis was crucial for the Men in Blue. It was then Kaif who played a monumental innings of 68, while stitching together an unbeaten 129-run partnership with Rahul Dravid to take India home and erase bitter memories of 2002 tour in New Zealand.
4. A breath-taking catch turns tables: In 2004, India travelled to Pakistan for a full series after a long gap of 16 years. It is no secret that the contest between arch-rivals is a nerve-wracking one. And it was seen in the very first ODI at Karachi. Chasing a target of 350, the hosts were on course of a stunning victory with just ten needed off eight balls. Shoaib Malik lofted a delivery by Zaheer Khan towards long on. However, an agile Kaif pulled off a stunning catch to turn tides in India’s favour. The Men in Blue clinched the thriller by five runs.
5. Holding nerves till end: After a narrow win at Karachi, India lost two successive ODIs at Rawalpindi and Peshawar to trail the series 1-2 in the historic 2004 series. In the fourth ODI played in Lahore, the hosts scored a competitive total of 293 off 50 overs at Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore. Despite a good start, India soon found themselves in trouble at 162-5 when Kaif and Dravid joined hands. Kaif maintained his composure while he rotated strike very well during the innings. India romped home by five wickets with five overs to spare.