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ICC Champions Trophy
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September 20, 2002
1800 IST

Pool A:
Aus | Ban | NZ

Pool B:
Ind | Eng | Zim

Pool C:
Ken | SA | WI

Pool D:
Ned | Pak | SL

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'My job is to win games for India'

Faisal Shariff in Colombo

This is the time when Mohammad Kaif does not do much wrong, especially when he holds the bat and wears the Indian cap.

Talking to the media though is something he is reluctant about. Ever since Kaif, a vital member of the young new India club, scampered through for the winning runs with only three balls and two wickets to spare in the NatWest final at Lord's and completed one of the most astonishing run chases in the abridged version of the game, he has been holding the flag of hope for Indian supporters.

In their opening game of the ICC Champions Trophy, India were down on the mat having lost their top five wickets inside the first 15 overs to the rusty Zimbabweans.

Mohammad Kaif Out walked Kaif, and with a calculated calm beyond his 21 years scored the highest individual score made by a number seven batsman to win the game for India.

His astute innings of 111 had 55 singles in Colombo's hot humid conditions.

"The coach (John Wright) taught me the importance of the single," he says.

"I come into bat at number seven when the field is spread out. There aren't many chances of hitting boundaries with only four men inside the circle. But there are a lot of gaps in the outfield that can be picked for singles. Boundaries and sixes come now and then but you have to keep taking the singles and rotating the strike," he explains.

"To bat at number seven is a different ball game. You have to keep getting the singles and finding the boundary from time to time as well. But I have things clear in my mind when I walk out to bat now."

Coach Wright believes there is no one to replace him at number seven even though he reckons that Kaif will be promoted up the order soon.

"My job is really to win games for India. Number seven is the position from where I have won games for India and if that is how my captain wants it that's the way it will be. As long as we win I don't care where I bat."

More than two years ago, Kaif lifted the Under-19 World Cup Trophy in Colombo at the Sinhalese Sports Center. Last year he was included in the Test squad against the Lankans but failed to grab the opportunity.

"After the tour of Sri Lanka last year when I was dropped from the team I was disappointed. But it was probably the best thing that could have happened to me. I realised my mistakes and understood what I needed to improve on. I returned home and worked a lot in the nets on my shots. I learnt to cope with the short balls and worked hard at my cut shots and pull shots. But most importantly, I learnt to play the short-pitched stuff."

Today, Wright reckons Kaif scores off good deliveries all the time. Soon after the win at Lord's, Wright said the spirit of youth knows no fear -- a reason why the youngsters chased the huge English total.

Ask Kaif, who lived in a hostel in Kanpur since he was 12, about fear and he smiles.

"Fear? I don't know what it is. Fear can take you away from what you set out to do. It prevents you from taking risks. When I walked out to bat at Lord's the asking rate was seven runs an over. If there was fear I would have never played all the way through. I am mentally tough to deal with any situation. I walk out to bat in any situation with the same frame of mind -- to come back victorious.

"Fear is a bad thing. You should never have it in you."

There is no sting of arrogance in those words -- just the punch of self-belief, and shoulders that do not carry the previous baggage of failures.

"I think it is too early to compare me to Michael Bevan," he says when you draw a comparison.

"I have played just 20 one-day games and have got a chance to bat on just two, three occasions to fifties."

The pressure of expectation seems to be setting in when he warns, "I think it will be very difficult now to win every match off my own bat. I get lesser number of overs to bat. Sometimes when I have just five overs to bat I will have to play the big strokes without building my innings."

Ask him about time spent at the National Cricket Academy in Bangalore and he quickly says the stint in Adelaide was more productive.

"I only spent two, three months in Bangalore at the cricket academy and then went to Adelaide to the Australian Cricket Academy. I learnt a lot in the 40 days I spent there. The coaches there taught me about pushing myself in pressure situations, disciplining daily training drills and playing the basic shots correctly. I think I came back a different player with a new approach and attitude."

Unlike many newcomers who celebrate their rise without giving due credit to the back-stage crew Kaif makes it a point to acknowledge Wright's contribution.

"Speaking to John is like gaining a year's experience in the game. He frees my batting up and that makes me very easy and confident when I walk out to bat. He only tells me one thing -- that I have to bat right till the end. He keeps putting that thought into my mind to stay right till the end."

"The senior guys help me out a lot too in the nets. If I play a shot they think is incorrect they will walk up to me in the nets and point it out. It makes learning a very enjoyable experience. To get tips from batsmen like Sachin (Tendulkar) and (Rahul) Dravid is an honour."

"I don't want to say anything before the game against England yet. But yes, I enjoy batting against them."

Kaif will have one last chance this year -- on Sunday, September 22 -- to hassle the Englishmen before the World Cup where the two teams square up again on February 26.

English skipper Nasser Hussain told a press conference after defeating Zimbabwe that the Indian batting keeps coming at you. If the genius of Tendulkar and the cool head of Dravid fail, India always has Mohammad Kaif at number seven to stay there -- right till the end.

'All it takes is one delivery to turn things around:' Glen McGrath
'My time to captain Zimbabwe has passed:' Andy Flower
'It's just not in the ICC's interest to undermine India:' Speed
'Batting is very important for me:' Shane Warne
'It's the worst injury I've had in my life:' Brian Lara
'I will be happy with 600 wickets:' Muthiah Muralitharan


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