'It made sense to do so on July 13. Each of our professional lives are defined by one moment more than any other, 16 years ago today, July 13, 2002 was that moment for me... It seems apt to bid goodbye on this day'
Indian cricketer Mohammad Kaif announced his retirement from all forms of the game today, exactly 16 years after he combined with Yuvraj Singh to script one of India's most memorable ODI triumphs at the hallowed turf of Lord's.
The 37-year-old posted an emotional message on his Twitter page to bid adieu to the game, almost 12 years after he last played for the Indian team, standing out as much for his acrobatic fielding as for his effective middle-order batting.
"It made sense to do so on July 13. Each of our professional lives are defined by one moment more than any other, 16 years ago today, July 13, 2002 was that moment for me... It seems apt to bid goodbye on this day," Kaif said.
Kaif played 13 Tests and 125 ODIs for India and will always be remembered for his match-winning knock of 87 at the Lord's during the epic Natwest Trophy final in 2002.
Detailing his cricketing journey which started at 11 "slowly, reluctantly, walking into a bare Green Park Hostel in Kanpur", Kaif spoke about the many milestones which defined his career.
He was a part of the Indian team that reached the World Cup final in South Africa. Along with Yuvraj Singh, Kaif was among the stars to emerge from the U-19 India stable after leading the Colts to a maiden Junior World Cup triumph in 2000.
One of the fittest cricketers of his time, a batting average of 32 in 125 ODIs, with only two hundreds, don't tell the story of Kaif's fighting abilities coming at No 6 or 7 with only few deliveries to play.
In his 13 Test appearances, Kaif logged 2753 runs at an average of 32.01, including two hundreds and 17 half-centuries.
"...despite the other moments, July 13, 2002 was different...With Viru (Virender Sehwag), Sachin Paaji, Dada (Sourav Ganguly), and Rahul (Dravid) back in the pavilion, 326 seemed impossible," Kaif recalled.
"My own family, by the way, decided not to watch, went off to see a movie and missed the rest of the game. However, no one told Yuvraj and me that we were expected to lose. So we expected to win," he said.
"Our 121-run stand, and the win, coming 19 years after India's 1983 World Cup win, also at Lord's was incredibly special. It's pretty amazing to be part of a magical win."
Kaif, who has won the Ranji Trophy for UP, last played first class cricket for Chattisgarh.
"Do I have any regrets? Yes. I guess I wouldn't be human if I didn't. I wish I'd played longer for India, I wish I'd played better in the few Tests I did get to play and I wish we had a system where someone would have sat down with a still introverted 25-year-old and told him why he never played a Test again after a Caribbean series where he got 148 not out," he said.
"But regret fades, that fact of being an India cricketer and the wonderful life it gives you, lasts and lifetime," he added.
Kaif will always be remembered as being one of the finest fielders that India has ever produced.
During the five years that he was an India regular, it was his electric reflexes inside the 30 yard circle, especially the cover region, that made him special.
Along with Yuvraj Singh at point, Kaif formed the backbone of Indian fielding during the time Sourav Ganguly led the Indian cricketing renaissance.
Apart from his Lord's knock, Kaif's hundred against Zimbabwe in the Champions Trophy 2002 will also remain in memory as he lifted the team from the dumps after the top order found itself back in the pavilion for less than 100 on the board.
However, issues with his technique made him vulnerable against top quality pacers, something that was exposed thoroughly during the 2006 tour of South Africa.
He never played for India again but remained a quality player in domestic cricket leading UP for many years.
He finished with 7581 first class runs with 15 hundreds across 129 matches.
Kaif is already a cricket analyst and a respected Hindi commentator.