Born on 1 December 1980, Mohammad Kaif is a former Indian batsman primarily known for his acrobatic fielding and catching skills. The 38-year-old represented India from 2000-2006 and was an important cog in the ODI squad. The Allahabad-born right-handed batsman featured in 125 ODIs and 13 Test matches during his career.
Kaif made his entry into the international stage at the age of 20 against South Africa, in the second Test of the two-match Test series at home. He couldn’t make an impression though, as he scored 12 and 23 in the two innings that led to him being dropped from the Test side for an year.
However, he came into the limelight again in the ODI format, where he made an immediate impression both with his batting and fielding. He went on to become a permanent fixture in limited overs cricket for a while; he and Yuvraj were the two most important factors in improving the fielding standards of Indian players.
However, a dip in form and heavy competition eventually led to Kaif's ouster from the national side. He last played for India in the year of 2006 against South Africa in South Africa, where he was dismissed for 10.
Kaif then played 22 games in four seasons of the Indian Premier League for three different franchises, but couldn’t achieve much success. He announced his retirement from all forms of cricket earlier this year, and currently he is part of the commentary team for Star Network.
As Kaif turns 38 today, let us look at the three most memorable knocks of his career:
#3 102* vs New Zealand at Harare (2005 Videocon Cup)
This was during the tri-nation ODI series between India, New Zealand and hosts Zimbabwe. Electing to bat first, New Zealand got off to a good start thanks to skipper Stephen Fleming and swashbuckling batsman Nathan Astle.
Despite losing wickets in the middle overs, New Zealand put up a good total of 278/9 in the allocated 50 overs. Scott Styris was the top scorer for the Kiwis with 56. Ashish Nehra, meanwhile, was the pick of the bowlers with 2-57, and Ajit Agarkar and Irfan Pathan shared two wickets apiece.
In reply, India got off to a rollicking start thanks to Virender Sehwag’s quickfire 45 off 34 deliveries. Kaif was promoted to No. 3 ahead of Rahul Dravid, and he made full use of the situation.
He was in sublime touch that day as he scored boundaries at will and looked in no trouble against the Kiwi pace attack. He added 101 runs for the third wicket along with Rahul Dravid, and ensured that India were on their way to a win.
The right-handed batsman scored a stroke-filled 102*, and India won the game by 6 wickets with more than two overs to spare.
Kaif’s 102 comprised of 11 boundaries, and this knock earned him the Man of the Match award.
#2 111* vs Zimbabwe at Colombo (2002 Champions Trophy)
This was during the 2002 Champions trophy that was held in Sri Lanka. The match in question was against Zimbabwe at the Premadasa Stadium in Colombo.
Electing to bat first, the Indians lost their skipper Sourav Ganguly as well as Dinesh Mongia in the fourth over. Virender Sehwag kept blazing away at the other end but wickets kept falling too. Sachin Tendulkar was dismissed for a duck in the 10th over.
Sehwag’s vigil at the crease ended in the 13th over, when he was dismissed for 48, and soon Yuvraj Singh followed in the next over. India were 5-87 in 13.2 overs and were looking in all sorts of trouble.
Douglas Hondo had picked up four out of the five wickets and the Indian top order had no answer to him. However, things turned around as Mohammad Kaif joined Rahul Dravid at the crease.
Both the batsmen survived the initial burst from the Zimbabwean attack and then milked the bowlers in the middle overs. Kaif was the aggressor of the two as he scored boundaries and kept the scoreboard ticking.
The pair added 117 runs for the 6th wicket before Dravid was run-out for 71. But Kaif continued his onslaught as he brought up a well deserved century in the 49th over. India ended up with a solid total of 288/6 in their 50 overs.
Kaif remained not out on 111 of 112 balls, and his innings comprised of 8 boundaries and 1 six. In reply, Zimbabwe gave a tough fight thanks to a fantastic 145 from Andy Flower, but it wasn’t enough as they fell short by 14 runs.
For his match-winning hundred, Kaif was again awarded the Man of the Match.
#1 87* vs England at Lords (Natwest Series 2002)
This is perhaps the most memorable performance of Mohammad Kaif's cricketing career. Electing to bat first on a beautiful batting surface at Lords, England amassed a massive total of 325/5 in their 50 overs. Marcus Trescothick and skipper Nasser Hussain notched up centuries and smashed the Indian bowlers all over the park.
The Indians had their backs to the wall, and it needed something special to win the game. Sourav Ganguly and Virender set up the chase with a 106-run stand for the first wicket, but things turned in England’s favour as the middle order collapsed and India were soon reduced to 5-146 in 24 overs.
Everyone believed it was over until Kaif and Yuvraj Singh changed the course of the game. The pair added 121 runs for the 6th wicket before Yuvraj was dismissed for 69.
Kaif held up one end and ensured he stayed at the crease till the end. He scored boundaries at regular intervals to keep India in the game despite the fact that kept losing wickets in the latter stages of the chase.
Kaif remained not out on 87 as India reached the target in the final over.
His 87* comprised of 6 boundaries and 2 sixes, and is regarded as one of the most iconic knocks in the history of Indian cricket. India won the Natwest trophy and this was also the first Man of the Match award for Kaif.