Mohammad Kaif vividly remembers the day when he was given the reins of the Uttar Pradesh Ranji team. It was in 2005 and he used to be a regular in the ODI squad,while waiting in the wings to be in the Test XI. The touch of professionalism that Kaif brought in his debut season as skipper trickled down and UP became the Ranji champions.
Kaifs stock as an international player has dropped drastically since,but the diligent young leader has seen to it UPs fortunes dont dip in the meanwhile. In the topsy-turvy world of domestic cricket,UP have cemented their place among the top teams by winning a title,a runners-up finish and a semi-final appearance in four seasons.
On eve of their semi-final game against Tamil Nadu,a team that they lost in the league stage,Kaif shows the kind of confidence that is the prerogative of someone who has things under his control. We have a belief that we can do it, Kaif says.
It wasnt so when he took the charge. The team had many gifted players but it was also riddled with intrigue and unwanted outside influences. Kaif had to tip-toe,while avoiding stepping on others,to get his way. That was the only international cricketer in the team helped. At that time,I was the only person in the dressing room to have international experience. My first meeting after getting captaincy was straight and to the point,and to my surprise the lads were latching on to every word I said, he says.
Kaif also had to convince the decision makers in UP cricket to give the players a sense of security. I asked the selectors as well as the Uttar Pradesh Cricket Association to keep faith in each player and make him feel that he belonged to the team, reveals Kaif.
It worked wonders and UP soon had performers of the likes of Praveen Kumar,Rudra Pratap Singh and Suresh Raina. Look at us,we have eleven match winners now, says Kaif,with a hint of pride that isnt entirely misplaced.