Uttar Pradesh will no doubt be heartbroken by the missed opportunity in this year's Ranji Trophy final, after suffering their second loss in successive finals. Captain Mohammad Kaif believes it still is a very huge achievement nonetheless, as he discusses the positives to take from this season
Wasim Jaffer talked about the two catches you dropped in the first innings as turning point.
Hold me responsible. Drop me if you want! Chalo mujhe maaf karo. Cricket hai. (Forgive me! It's cricket.) Others too dropped catches and missed stumpings. I think that if we had scored a few more runs and kept the lead down from 157, it would have been close.
We made a mistake of respecting the bowlers too seriously in the first innings and batted slowly. So we came back today with a plan of winning. It didn't go that way of course, but we tried.
Three finals in the last four years. How big an achievement is it for UP?
In my eyes, a very huge achievement. The UP record in the past has not been great. We won only once three years back; earlier we were not one of the big sides. Now when you talk about Mumbai, you need to mention UP as well in domestic cricket.
UP don't have many facilities. Your achievement is despite the system. When will the situation change?
Not sure. Hopefully in the future. We are getting things organized slowly. Now we have a coach, a physio and a manager. We didn't have them before. Even in the year when we won, we didn't have a physio. I wish we will have the same facilities like other big teams have. They have gyms, proper nets, videotaping facilities.
Why do you think it is in this state?
Maybe because we were not the best side. We were not winning anything. Now we know how to win and what the things are required to form a good side. Things are changing back home slowly. I had to call one guy from Madhya Pradesh, Rathore, only for the final to look after the boys, during the year we won.
There is talk of too much politics being in the system...
In UP, well I don't need to tell you. You all know what it is. Probably, you want to hear it from me as a captain which is fine. You know about the good things, the bad things, politics, how players come from, how they get picked . We have some difficulties at the under-age levels. Hopefully the selection criteria and the infrastructure will improve.
If I turn the question around and ask you that if you are on the administration side, what things will you look into?
Infrastructure and proper selection at the under-age levels, in the 30-member squad and give more chances to the players you finally pick. That's what I have been trying to do as a captain as well. For example, Parvinder Singh - he has been playing for seven years but he was not able to get support from the management and the players and never felt at home. But this time, he has played his first full season. I assured him that he would get five to six games, but he had to show us what he could do. He didn't start well, but grew in confidence as he knew if he got out, he would have some support in the dressing room and he would get more chances. That has worked. He delivered for us.
How difficult it is to captain this side full of diverse characters and strong personalities?
Yeah you need to know about their nature. Sometimes you've got to be hard, sometimes you've got to be soft, and know how to guide the younger boys.
There is a group of young inexperienced guys on one hand, while there are some who can be at times a touch difficult. Any worries?
What you see of them is not how I see. All I need is commitment once they enter the ground and I get it. That's all I am bothered about.
Have you enjoyed the captaincy?
Yeah. At times there is fatigue and stuff like that because of non-stop cricket. People think I can do a good job and I am happy that I have been able to work with the young guys and get to three finals.
What are the positives from this season? The allrounder Bhuvneshwar has been a find.
Bhuveneshwar, yes, and the whole team has done well actually - Parvinder Singh, Shivakant Shukla. As a captain I look things differently. Praveen Gupta is a good bowler. Sometimes, in a match, you need to keep switching plans. You cannot give a big spell to a bowler. So someone like Praveen has not got a chance to bowl big spells compared to Piyush [Chawla], Praveen [Kumar], RP [Singh]. To me, all are equal. Our strength in the past few years was our bowling. But this season our batsmen have clicked and we have chased some big scores. So the team is looking good allround.
Moving to your career, how and where do you see it going now?
I am not sure. If you ask the selectors they will give you a better idea. To me, all I can do is just to score runs.
Some people have called you a very unlucky Indian cricketer, in terms of opportunities given to you. Would you agree?
Sometimes there are stages in your career you feel when you are getting runs and you still get dropped. I scored 91 against England and was dropped for the next match. In West Indies, I scored 146 not out in a Test match [in 2006], batted only three innings after that and never played again. It's disappointing. Players who were getting dropped are coming back. But I haven't made a comeback in more than two years. It's been frustrating and very tough.
Have you got the answer to the question, why you have been dropped?
You can't ask those questions as a player. Selectors have not spoken to me. When you are dropping someone you need to know in what area you need to work on. That's how it's supposed to be. You need to be more transparent. If I am not good enough, just tell me on the face and I will work hard on those areas. It will help that player and at the same time to the team also na?
Are you still hopeful of the India cap or have you stopped thinking about it?
No, I am still hopeful. I am not done.