Baroda v Uttar Pradesh, Ranji Trophy, Vadodara January 5, 2007

Fitness is crucial in West Indies - Kaif

Sidharth Monga at Vadodara
Sidharth Monga speaks to Mohammad Kaif after Uttar Pradesh lost to Baroda at Vadodara. Despite the defeat Kaif keeps his promise for the interview and remains as endearing as ever

When Mohammad Kaif tells you there are some things (being dropped repeatedly) he can't control and he doesn't let them affect him, you want to believe that is the case. He can be going through the toughest phase with the bat and still be the infectious livewire in the field. He can't sit still; he has to be up to something all the time. Somehow you feel he can do enough to come back, and at the same time not get affected by what is not under his control. For, he is always the first man to go out for warm-ups, training, and nets. He is the first man to shrug disappointment and crack a joke. On day three of a match his team is losing and he has scored only two, he tells you he would have hit you with a bat had you gone to ask him for an interview. For, he is so endearing you want to believe he doesn't let what is not in his control affect him. After his team has lost the match, he is obviously distraught but honours the promise made at the start of the match: a chat sometime during the match.

'It can be really challenging because the conditions [in West Indies] are humid and hot. You have to be very fit © AFP

You did well in the West Indies (two ODI half-centuries and a Test hundred). Do you think that should help you when the selectors pick the squad for the World Cup?
I don't want to comment on that. I am thinking about Ranji Trophy right now. This time probably we have not done really well in Ranji. Uttar Pradesh haven't won too much. I have seen the winning phase (last year), I have seen the losing phase too. I am learning something new everyday and am not thinking too much about the World Cup right now. But of course, I would love to be there.

What is playing in West Indies like?
It can be really challenging because the conditions are humid and hot. The wickets can be slower, and you have to really work hard to score your runs. If you see our series, it was a low-scoring one. You have to be very fit, because you have to run a lot of runs. After the over restrictions, it is very hard to hit fours and sixes. Sixes you can hit but fours have to go along the ground and the outfields are not the quickest.

Low-scoring makes fielding very important then. Younger legs should make the difference.
Definitely while fielding and running between the wickets. In scoring one of his fifties, (Dwayne) Bravo ran all his runs like hell. He probably hit only one boundary and he just ran and ran: two, two, and two. Unless you can hit really good shots or sixes, boundaries don't come easily.

Were you disappointed at not getting a consistent run in the one-day side after that good a series in West Indies?
It can be tough. It depends on individuals and I don't want to talk too much about it. I just want to take the positives in me, which could be doing well in domestic cricket. To make one mistake and come back and keep improving is mentally very challenging. When you play one game and get dropped the next, it can be tough. Sometimes you are not sure the number you will bat at. But it's a team game and you can't make excuses. You can't say if I would have got more games I would have done this. If I had batted at my favourite position, I would have done that. That is not the right way to think, but being dropped and trying to come back is tough.

What did you the think the night you were dropped?
In which match (laughs)?

Let's say most recently, in South Africa.
I have got used to it. It used to affect me quite a lot. If I start talking about my performance and being dropped, probably, you will have to stay here for another hour. But now I have got used to it. I am not thinking too much about what I can't control. What I can do is do my best. They have got a thinking going, they have a policy, they also want to win. So I am not getting too disturbed by not making it to the final XI. You will be disappointed because you want to play for your country and do well but there are some things you can't control.

I am not getting too disturbed by not making it to the final XI. You will be disappointed because you want to play for your country and do well but there are some things you can't control

Do you feel insecure now that with the team not performing well, they have gone back to the seniors, the guys you had kept away by performing well as a young side?
That's the selectors' choice, I don't want to go too much in that.

But does that tell you that the selectors have lost faith in you, the youngsters?
When you keep losing, they have to take some decisions at some point of time. You guys (the media) are after them, and if they don't do anything you run them down. When they make the changes, you catch youngsters like me to answer tough questions (laughs).

But when you don't win, these things can happen. As I said, there are some things you can't control.

How easy is it to come back and get runs at domestic cricket when you are dropped?
It's tough. Had it been easy I would have scored a hundred in the first match, and Irfan would've taken five wickets.

You have come back from international cricket and are leading a Ranji side too. You know your personal performance is being watched closely and you have to take every single opportunity that comes your way. At the same time you have to lead a side. How do you balance it?

Last year when we (UP) won the Ranji Trophy, it was the same thing. I am trying to follow the same routine. This year, though, the team has not done that well. Whenever I have led any side, at U-15, U-19, or UP last year, personally I have done well with the bat. As a captain and as an individual I have done well. Every single match, every single day is a learning experience. You learn something every day. It's not easy for any player. I have been on and off in the team. I've batted at No. 3 to 7. The only option is to perform here. You have to send a signal that you are here and are working hard. But I enjoyed last time around, because captaining is a challenge which I love to take. Last time it worked with me. Individually it can be tough to come back and perform. But as a captain, you can't sit back and think about your own batting.

'it's a team game and you can't make excuses. You can't say if I would have got more games I would have done this. If I had batted at my favourite position, I would have done that' © AFP

If you are an international player looking for runs or wickets and you are not the captain, is there a case for the captain to let you do more than he would have other players. For example Jacob Martin won the toss and chose to field on this flat wicket probably to let Irfan Pathan get the first use of the fresh wicket. And on various occasions we saw Pathan coming on to bowl as soon as a wicket fell. Probably at crucial junctures, there could be a case of him being overbowled too.

I am not sure about that (not wanting to comment on the opposition's strategy). I am a captain too and I do not think too much about supporting (Suresh) Raina, RP Singh, or Piyush Chawla who have all played for India. I never think I should let Chawla bowl more overs and get five wickets, which will benefit him. But if there is a possibility with the team not getting affected and he can benefit, I may think of preferring him. But not at the expense of the team.

Where do you draw that line?
Well it depends upon different situations. If I am batting No. 3, and if I am asked to bat first, I can end somebody else in. But I never do that. In the match against Tamil Nadu, where we needed 129 from 25 overs in the second innings, Raina and I opened. We took the chance, but we could have got low scores. Which we eventually did, but it's a team game.

Sidharth Monga is staff writer of Cricinfo Magazine