Having defended Kaif’s selection in the Indian Team for a few years now, I find this article by Rajan Bala in today’s Asian Age heartening.
The first criticism levelled against Kaif is that he hardly ever makes an impact, except in the field: that he isn’t a Dhoni, Sehwag or a Yuvraj. One tends to forget that Kaif is sent in with overs to spare only in a crisis situation since, like Dravid, his role is of a pivot. Given a comfortable situation, there have been occasions where even Harbhajan Singh has been sent before him to continue smashing the bowlers around. Either Kaif comes in with few overs to spare, or when he needs to prevent a collapse.
In tests, India now takes field with a single pivot – Dravid. I can’t think of any other regular (yes, even Tendulkar) who can now be depended on to stick around and prevent a collapse. Even if they make runs, time at the crease is something they’re not willing to spend. Kaif, in spite of a pivotal 91 in the Nagpur Test, was dropped for the more flambuoyant Yuvraj Singh. Take a look at Kaif’s Test stats here. He’s played just 9 Test matches in six years, in spite of the fact that he has seemed more of a Test batsman than an ODI one because of his tendancy to carefully construct an innings.
One does find a parallel in VVS Laxman, wherein both Kaif and Laxman have been always on top of the hitlist, in case someone else needs to be brought in. In contrast, Yuvraj has played 15 Tests in four years and Dhoni- 9 Tests in 2005-06.
My reason for supporting Kaif has been quite simple – I feel the need for pivots in a team, and at present Dravid is the only one. Tendulkar, it seems, seems to be in no mans land after trying to reinvent his game. Sehwag, Gambhir, Dhoni and Pathan are essentially dashers who cannot be relied on, game after game. In such a scenario, you’re fielding a team in the hope that at least one of your dashers clicks once in every four games (or less). Dravid seems to have reached Tendulkarian heights, in the sense that if he gets out, even with Tendulkar around, you feel that the end of the innings is nigh.
Even if Kaif isn’t the pivot (Raina showed signs of being one in his U-19 days, but seems to have been taken in by all the shotmaking around him), I think it’s high time we looked around for one. In Tendulkar’s absense, I think it’s time Kaif was sent in consistently at No.3 or 4, and given time to build an innings. Against a similar English attack (with only Mahmood being replaced by Flintoff for the Delhi ODI), Kaif crafted a matchwinning 119 in 136 balls, coming in at No.4.
Anyway, here’s what Rajan Bala has to say about Kaif:
Though he (Kaif) has not been able to establish a settled place in the Test batting order � how many people have had to sit out after making 91? � he is a regular in the limited-overs side. And the man has leadership experience having been the winning captain of the Indian under-19 side and lately marshalling the resources beautifully to give Uttar Pradesh its first Ranji Trophy title.
The truth is he has the proper credentials to be Dravid�s deputy in limited-overs cricket. And since the focus is short-term, upto the World Cup, maybe the captain and coach could think of him. Clearly at the first class level he is regarded highly as captain and everyone is aware that from very young he has been groomed for this responsibility.