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July 15, 2002 | 2000 IST

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Kaif wasn't sure he
could pull it off

Notwithstanding the confidence and poise he displayed as he guided India to a famous victory over England, in the final of the NatWest Tri-Series at Lord's on Saturday, Mohammad Kaif confessed that neither he nor his partner Yuvraj Singh actually believed they could pull off the successful run-chase.

In a match-winning partnership, Kaif and Yuvraj Singh added 121 runs off just 106 deliveries to put India on road to victory, after the team had lost five wickets for 146, while chasing England's total of 325.

Kaif went on to play the innings of his life, an unbeaten 75-ball 87, which earned him the man of the match award.

In Allahabad, his family could not watch his moment of glory as they switched off their television and went to a theatre for a movie after India looked headed for a certain defeat.

"Why my family, even we in the middle were not so sure if it would come off," said Kaif, presenting a picture of modesty and appearing absolutely bewildered at the bedlam that has followed his success.

That one knock has made him the most sought-after Indian cricketer at the moment. Till yesterday, he went unnoticed in a team of superstars; but today, it seems the fans can't have enough of him.

The signs are apparent -- it is difficult to get through to him; he is out of bounds for the media and the receptionist at the team's hotel is absolutely tired of receiving calls on Kaif's behalf.

Kaif informed that like everyone else he too was very excited when India approached the target and did not know whether a direct hit from Nick Knight could have found him short of the crease when he scampered for a single from the non-striker's end to tie the scores. The throw missed the stumps and the resultant overthrow saw India complete one of their most famous victories.

"I am not aware if Knight could have got me short of my crease. Things were happening too quickly," he said, reliving those tense, final moments.

After securing the victory, Kaif ran towards the far side of the ground with helmet raised in one hand and bat in the other.

"I didn't run to that end because I was gesturing to the television cameras or to my friends sitting there. I was just too excited and didn't know what was happening," he said.

"In the heat of the moment and with my body in motion, I was just running all over the place."

The wiry youngster from Uttar Pradesh is now basking in his newly acquired star status and said he is still savouring the happy feeling of the winning a final for the team.

"It is a very special feeling. We hadn't done well in finals and coming and doing it at Lord's makes it a very, very special day in my life," he said.

Kaif said at no time during his innings did he face any sledging from the English fielders.

"Indeed, there was no verbal aggression from the England team. The only one I remember was from Nasser Hussain, when he was batting against us at Chester-le-Street in one of the league games."

Kaif said his mental toughness, which he has displayed time and again in crunch situations, was acquired while playing for Uttar Pradesh, cricketing minnows in the domestic circuit.

"I know not many players from Uttar Pradesh had made a mark on the national scene and I am determined to set an example for others," said Kaif, who has largely ploughed a lone furrow in his career.

"We don't have many facilities in Uttar Pradesh and it was a matter of pushing yourself hard all the time to make it to the national scene.

"Till three years ago, I hadn't known what quality training is - I was just logging in hours on the field running and just running.

"Now in the last three years, I am aware what kind of training I must do to improve my reflexes - both in batting and fielding. I am aware which part of my body needs improvement and to what degree," Kaif said.

The cricketer said this change in his attitude came about when he visited the Australian Cricket Academy a few seasons ago and later during his stint with the National Cricket Academy in India.

"I think the visit to Australia was an eye opener. I spoke to Rod Marsh and others and watched cricketers train. I was painfully aware I needed to take a different route if I had to make a mark on the national scene," he added.

(c) Copyright 2002 PTI. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of PTI content, including by framing or similar means, is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent.

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