Pop the Question

'You need to be prepared to get hurt'

Mohammad Kaif talks about the art of good fielding, his best ODI innings, his heroes, and his terrible slip-catching technique

Mohammad Kaif dives to take a catch, Bangalore, September 29, 2008

"I play this game because it is so much fun"  •  AFP

How do you maintain the physical agility to be the terrific fielder you are? asked Aditi from the USA
Actually I have always been like this from a young age. I joined the Uttar Pradesh Sports Hostel as a 12-year-old. We had a nice group of 25-odd youngsters and we would have a lot of fun playing various sports and outdoor activities. That's how I learned more about fitness and started enjoying fielding. We started very early in the morning and there would be dew on the grass, so throwing yourself around wasn't an issue. Of course I did get hurt a lot, but as they say, no pain, no gain.
You have one of the closest stances I have seen in any batsman. Is there a reason for that? asked Karan from Canada
Not really. I did not have proper cricket coaches while growing up. I never had a coach who could explain to me the correct art of batting. I just grew up doing what I knew and thought was the right technique. In ODIs you don't need to use the feet a lot - you watch the ball and hit through the line. That stance helped me to easily pull the ball. So I felt I was comfortable at the time. But it reached a stage where I was really confused and I had to get back to the basics. So I spoke to a lot of people and have now managed to get a stance that allows me to remain confident and score runs. Good players use both their feet and keep their head still, which is what I'm doing now.
How do you keep yourself motivated when you have been neglected by the national selectors for so long? asked Nadeem from Canada
I play this game because it is so much fun. I enjoy this game because it gives me the greatest satisfaction. You want to be the best and you want to perform and help your team win. That idea has always motivated me. Right from when I was young, whatever sport I played, I learned to be the best. I never thought of playing for the country till my Under-19 days - till then I was just thinking about doing my best for whatever team I played for.
Which format do you think you are best suited to - Twenty20, ODIs or Tests? asked Sree J from Canada
I have played 125 ODIs, batting at various positions ranging from No. 3 to No. 7, but mostly I have batted lower in the order. The key to playing all forms is to adapt to the situation, to switch your mind and play your shots when there is an opporrunity. In Twenty20 you need to be ready to hit from the first ball. But if you can play Tests and ODIs, it becomes easy to play Twenty20.
You seem to have an unusual batting grip. One hand at the very top on the handle and another at the bottom, leaving a lot of space between the two hands. Wasn't this picked up by coaches? Or were you unwilling to change as you were comfortable with it? asked Patrick from Australia
I must admit it is a wrong technique. Your hands must be together, whether your grip is high on the handle or at the bottom. That will give power to your shots and also help in getting your timing right. I developed the wrong technique because as a youngster, like I pointed out earlier, I never had a the right coaches, and also I tried out various things on my own, some of which were wrong.
Which was the best innings of your ODI career? asked Haris Usmani from Canada
The final of the 2002 NatWest final against England, where I got 87. Before that I had got fifties but that performance made me believe that I belonged to this arena and the Indian team. That gave me confidence and from then I felt relaxed and part of the group. After that, India were 80 for 5 against Zimbabwe in the Champions Trophy, but I went in and scored a century.
When I am practising in the nets, I play really well. I get all my strokes and timing right. But when I am outdoors, playing a match, I just can't play all the strokes I play in the nets. What can I do? asked Tausif Patel from the UK
You need to practise in the nets as if it is a real match. You need to simulate the match situation while training, where you put yourself under pressure whatever you do. Usually a player goes to the nets and hits a lots of balls but there is no pressure. You need to analyse the areas where you are going wrong in a match and put yourself under similar pressure and then train really hard in the nets.
Where did you learn your sliding skills, in which you are a rare expert in India? Was it your stint at the Australian cricket academy, or was there any coach in India as well, who knew and taught you how to slide while fielding? asked Nadeem from India
If you play outdoor games like football in the rain and not count the time spent but play for fun, with a competitive spirit, you will learn many new things about yourself. I did all that and started to learn about diving techniques and became fitter by the day. Steadily I started taking charge of the group and that made me more confident in what I was doing. I ran a lot, whatever sport I played, which kept me agile. You will get injured and suffer a lot of bruises and the skin will be ripped off various parts of your body but you can conquer the fear by performing, and when you start contributing in a team's victory, you will automatically throw yourself at whatever comes your way. You have to play to win.
"You will get injured and suffer a lot of bruises and the skin will be ripped off various parts of your body but you can conquer the fear by performing, and when you start contributing in a team's victory, you will automatically throw yourself at whatever comes your way"
You have an unusual stance in the slip cordon. Do you feel that it gives you an advantage? asked Karthikeyan from India
That was a terrible stance. I never was a slip fielder and never practised fielding in slips, so I had no technique. In the slips you need to relax, keep your hands relaxed, not move a lot, watch the ball closely and receive it. I was used to running around and being pumped up in my other customary positions, like cover. Recently, playing for Uttar Pradesh I have improved a lot in the slips and I'm relaxing finally.
You have fielded quite a bit at forward short leg in your career. What is the key to fielding at that position? asked Bilal from Pakistan
You have to watch the bat. You have to always stay switched on because it is a very important position, especially in the subcontinent, where the pitch takes huge amounts of turn. One key element to stay prepared is to keep your body low, and to squat on your toes but stay relaxed. Also, your body weight should be a little forward. And then you need to watch the bat really closely because the batsman is often trying to steal a single, so the ball will probably go a little finer, and you need to keep that in the mind.
Can you comment on the partnership between you and Rahul Dravid during the 2003 World Cup, when he was fifth in the batting order, where you both finished a few matches successfully? asked Chaitanya from India
I had so much fun with Dravid at the other end. Perhaps one reason could be that we have similar batting styles, so in pressure situations we could think a lot better by focussing on rotating the strike rather than hitting boundaries. So we had a very good understanding. Unlike Ganguly, Tendulkar, Sehwag, and Yuvraj, who would go for big shots, both of us were supposed to play through the innings, so we spent time in the middle building partnerships. In the middle overs it is hard to get fours, so you need to put pressure on the fielder and run fast between the wickets and convert ones into twos.
What is the best advice you can give to a batsman wanting to improve his strike rate? asked Sachin from Australia
With Twenty20 becoming popular I already see youngsters going for lofted drives and big shots. But you need to get your basics right and play longer-form games to begin with. Then with experience you will know when to go for your shots. A smart player takes fewer risks and scores the same as the big hitters. Normal shots can give you runs, too. Brian Lara, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Ricky Ponting have got big runs by playing normal cricketing shots.
Who according to you are the three best fielders in the Indian side currently and in world cricket? asked Mohammad Faisal Pasha from India
Ricky Ponting, AB de Villiers and Suresh Raina.
When you started out, who was your role model? asked Hasnain from Pakistan
Mohammad Azharuddin, because he was so different from the others with bat in hand and then with his brilliant fielding skills. The way he stole runs using those wrists was just amazing. My second hero while growing up was Sachin Tendulkar. The way he opened the innings was something special, and the way he took on the bowlers was wonderful. Interestingly, both of them were involved in my debut Test - it was Azhar's last Test, where he got a century, and Tendulkar's final Test as captain.
Soon in Pop the Question: Terry Jenner. Send in your questions for Jenner here

As told to Nagraj Gollapudi