Mohammad Kaif, who comes from the cricketing backwater of Uttar Pradesh, first came to prominence with his performances for India's Under-19s: he captained the side, which also included Yuvraj Singh, Ajay Ratra and Reetinder Sodhi, that won the Youth World Cup of 2000. Kaif's assured strokeplay, and composure that belied his age, earned him a Test cap against South Africa when he was only 20. Though the selectors subsequently discarded him, stints at the Australian Cricket Academy and its Indian equivalent in Bangalore helped to iron out some of the kinks in his technique. Recalled to the one-day side during the 2001-2002 home season, he made an impact with some steady and purposeful batting. But it was during the 2002 NatWest series in England that he truly hit the high notes, culminating in a magnificent unbeaten 87 as India successfully chased 326 for victory in the final. A superb century followed - against Zimbabwe in the ICC Champions Trophy - but he struggled at times to kick on after that, having a fairly quiet World Cup. His first experience of the county circuit was also a mixed bag, some typically dynamic efforts interspersed by a string of low scores. Kaif's exceptional fielding at cover often overshadowed his poor scores with the bat - including a horror run in 2005-06 - but even that hasn't been enough to win him a permanent place in the Test side. He was dropped for more than a year before being recalled to the Test squad for the second Test against South Africa in Ahmedabad - backed by an impressive domestic season - as a replacement for the injured Sachin Tendulkar. He was also the most expensive player in the Rajasthan Royals IPL team.
Dileep Premachandran March 2008