India v England, 1st Test, Nagpur, 4th day March 4, 2006

"Dropped catches don't help" - Kaif

Mohammad Kaif believes India's batting depth can seal a draw as a tough day beckons © Getty Images

While more or less admitting that an Indian win was unlikely, Mohammad Kaif - who rescued India in the first innings with a gritty 91 - was quietly confident that India could save the match and move on to Mohali with hopes of a series victory still intact. While confessing that it hadn't been a great day, Kaif was optimistic that India's batting depth would spare their blushes on the final day.

"We've done well as a combination over the past few months," he said. "We have some good experienced players, and we just need to go out there and bat well." When asked if the pitch would hold up on the final day, he said that it had shown few disquieting signs so far. "Yes, it's slow and low, and there's some turn as well, but nothing alarming."

With Michael Vaughan and Simon Jones ruled out by knee problems, and Marcus Trescothick back home for personal reasons, India were prohibitive favourites heading into this match. Kaif, however, didn't see it that way. "It was you guys [the media] who wrote all that, about this player being missing and that player being missing. They're a professional side, a good side, and it makes no difference to us in the team who we're playing against.

"They've played well so far," he added. "They batted well to get nearly 400, and then bowled well, to a good line and length." He was also full of praise for Monty Panesar, who bowled him out and also picked up the wicket of Sachin Tendulkar in a highly promising display. "He was very accurate, and created pressure. He bowled in the right areas, and it was hard for us to score runs against him."

As for the forgettable effort in the field on day four, Kaif made no excuses. "Dropped catches don't help," he said pithily. "We didn't field well." Kevin Pietersen was reprieved by S Sreesanth on 51, and Alastair Cook was let off twice, on 70 and 92. "Pietersen's knock was really crucial," said Kaif. "He got the momentum going for them. If we had taken that catch, it might have changed the match."

Cook's century on debut, following on from a first-innings 60, also came in for praise. "To come to India and get a hundred in your first Test...full credit to him." Playing only his ninth Test - he has worn the India cap in 108 one-day international matches - Kaif was candid when asked about his stop-start career. "It's been a tough journey so far, especially when it comes to Test matches. Whoever gets a chance has to be given a couple of opportunities to prove himself."

With Yuvraj Singh's hamstring healed and a return to the XI at Mohali certain, it remains to be seen whether Kaif will stay in the side. Given India's dubious record when it comes to saving games - they lost nine wickets against Pakistan after lunch on the final day in Bangalore a year ago - Kaif may well have to be part of a final-day salvage operation. His immediate future, and the composition of the middle order, will depend on how well he deals with it. After his sterling effort in the first dig, the effort certainly won't be lacking.

Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo