Five greatest international players from Uttar Pradesh
From the dusty by-lanes to the hallowed turfs; from the rickety grounds to the well-mowed greens, a cricketer, in his journey to stardom rarely stops to breathe. Train. Practice. Repeat. Gruelling exercises. Drills. Repeat.
With eyes set firmly on the ultimate aim to play for India, smaller milestones are first set in place. Play age-group cricket. District level. Eventually turn up for the state and the path should take care of itself. It is no secret that state cricket or Ranji cricket in India remains paramount. It is that platform where youngsters unite as a cohesive unit, pledging to take their team towards history.
It is also that platform where, despite the harmony, the competition reaches the highest peak. This is where one can either perform or perish. One good season and the door that leads to further glories will remain ajar. A bad season and it can firmly shut itself on all the expectations and dreams.
It is the stage which brings players into the limelight in the first place. It is that stage to which Indian discards return, hoping to perform and make it into the lost limelight once again.
When the magical call-up finally arrives, it is a matter of immense joy and vast pride. Not only for the family and the individual but also for the state on whose soil the player roughed it out day and night to hone his skills.
The state is highlighted with every wicket he takes or every run he scores for India. There is, after all, a reason why Ranchi still dwells in MS Dhoni’s fame.
It is no surprise then that Uttar Pradesh continues to revel in this quiet boastfulness. Having given India a fine variety of talent, the largest state in the nation remains a fine breeding ground for immensely skilled cricketers.
On that note, here are five of the greatest cricketers to have emerged from the state:
#5 Mohammad Kaif: India’s very own Jhonty Rhodes
Having made his First-Class debut in 1997, Mohammad Kaif rose to fame after captaining the India Under-19 team to the World Cup title way back in 2000, a team that comprised Venugopal Rao and Yuvraj Singh. Defined by a calm demeanour and shrewd stroke-play, Kaif got his maiden call-up to the Indian Test team soon after, when he was just 20.
An unassured performance led to his ousting after which the youngster joined the Australian Cricket Academy and the National Cricket Academy. Vastly improved, he was recalled to the 50-over side for India the following year and a combination of agility and steady batting allowed him to cement a spot in the side.
The 36-year-old is still remembered for his famous 87 in the NatWest Series Final way back in 2002, where he combined with his under-19 teammate Yuvraj and overhauled England’s stiff target of 326, an innings that earned him his first Man of the Match award and one which also showcased the eccentric side of the usually rigid Sourav Ganguly.
Lack of consistency and an extended poor season with the bat ensured that Kaif was dropped from the Indian ODI team in November 2006, following which he never returned. All in all, he played 125 ODIs for India, averaging 32.01 with two centuries. In Tests, he averaged 32.84 from his 13 matches, with a solitary ton against his name.
However, this did not deter the Rajasthan Royals from bagging the maverick for USD$675,000 in 2008, making him the most expensive player for the franchise that season. A string of low scores meant that the Indian could never get going in the T20 league. He shuffled around, moving from Kings XI Punjab to Royal Challengers Bangalore but was tossed aside by the RCB in 2012, to never play in the league thereafter.
In 2014, he bid adieu to his 16-year stint with Uttar Pradesh and struck a two-year deal with Andhra Pradesh for the domestic season, captaining the team of youngsters before shifting to Chhattisgarh in 2016.
Despite having an international career that ended before it could bloom, Kaif emphatically won the nation over with his brilliant fielding in the covers, diving and shoving aside the ball in a trance. The Indian fielding standards saw a resurgence with Kaif’s quick slides and throws, allowing one to talk about him in the same breath as legendary South African Jonty Rhodes.