Cricket is in their blood

The resounding success of these two gifted cricketers is a saga of hard work, not only for Kaif and Yuvraj, but for their parents as well, writes Vijay Lokapally.

Yuvraj Singh and Mohammed Kaif, the architects of India's win in Natwest Trophy final.   -  N. Sridharan

THE first sign of stardom was evident. The 'Do not disturb' instruction to the telephone operator by Mohammed Kaif and Yuvraj Singh was just an indication of that. They could not be faulted because the calls were disturbing them in the dead of night.

Success may be tough to handle, but they will understand and grow, having found a foothold in a system which recognises the value of youth only when it delivers instantly. It's good for Indian cricket that Kaif, 21, and Yuvraj, 20, shone at Lord's. Indian cricket promises better things in the wake of the stupendous accomplishment of these two, in fashioning a memorable victory.

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The resounding success of these two gifted cricketers is a saga of hard work, not only for Kaif and Yuvraj, but for their parents as well. Behind their rise are the efforts put in by Mohammed Tarif and Yograj Singh.

Cricket has been in their blood. Tarif and Yograj, cricketers themselves, were quick to spot the potential of their sons and lost no time in honing their skills.

Growing in a modest environment stood Kaif in good stead when he was confronted with a gigantic task at Lord's. Probably, at every step, he remembered the hard work of his father in raising him to be a decent cricketer.

For Yuvraj, too, the years of training under the watchful eye of his father was of immense help, guiding him through the difficult period.

Back home, Tarif, elated after his son's match-winning knock, said: "I always wanted Honey (Kaif) to excel in cricket and what better stage than Lord's to announce his potential." A former Ranji Trophy cricketer, Tarif represented Railways, which has done yeoman service to the game by employing cricketers and providing them excellent facilities.

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For Tarif, it was a memorable day. It took time for Kaif to blossom, because there were few backers for cricketers from Uttar Pradesh. Kaif came through the grind and it indeed helped the young man who, now, should be brimming with confidence. The stint in the under-15 and under-19 grades helped Kaif and Yuvraj. The Punjab lad, Yuvraj, was hailed as a prodigy by most experts and has finally begun to realise the dreams of his parents.

Kaif's cricket was honed over the years by his father, who was quick to point out the assistance of local coach Devesh Mishra in Allahabad and Sarkar Talwar, the coach of the Indian team which won the under-15 World Cup at Lord's five years ago. Kaif was a member of that squad and it was Talwar who first spotted the immense potential of the lad. "Mark my words, he will be a big name in the world of cricket," Talwar said on return from England. He was the first man, after Tarif of course, to read Kaif's talent so well. Later, Kaif was backed by former skipper Mohammed Azharuddin too. Today, the greatest supporter of Kaif in the Indian team is Rahul Dravid, who also convinced coach John Wright to give the Uttar Pradesh lad a break.

What had Talwar seen in Kaif at that stage? "I'm not an expert but I could see that he was very determined. He had an amazing temperament and that, I think, is his greatest asset. I've not seen many cricketers with such temperament. That's what convinced me that I was watching a youngster who was destined to play for India," said Talwar, a noted off-spinner with more than 300 first-class wickets.

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In Tarif's opinion, what helped Kaif make a place for himself was his desire to be a champion. Even though Kaif's elder brother Saif was said to be more talented, it was the younger son of Tarif who promised to make it big because of his determination. "It used to be difficult for us to draw Kaif away from the field. Every evening his mother would scream at Honey to come and eat his dinner. He wouldn't give up his batting even when it was dark. I enjoyed it because I knew this was the right platform for my son to develop his love for the game. You may have the talent but you must also have the love for the game. Honey had it aplenty, I must say," Tarif sounded proud of his son.

For Yograj, spotting the talent in Yuvraj was not a problem at all because the lad could hardly be separated from the bat that his father gifted him. Yuvraj grew up in an affluent background as his father provided him the best of facilities in Chandigarh. Kaif had the streets of Allahabad as the grooming grounds even as Yuvraj trained on an exclusive pitch prepared for him by Yograj.

Tarif recalled how he played the season with just one bat at his disposal. "Today, Honey has 50 bats at a given time," informs Tarif. But Kaif, once he started playing competitive cricket, never had an occasion where he was deprived of what he wanted. "I gave him all that I couldn't have for myself," said Tarif, who remembered his humble background even as he thanked Allah for being kind to his son.

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Yograj, too, was amazingly focussed in bringing up his son. For hours everyday, the former Test fast bowler would test Yuvraj's batting skills. While Tarif did not make any demands of his son, Yograj was a hard taskmaster. If Yuvraj got out for a fifty, the father would lash him for missing a century. In the next game, when he hit the desired century, Yograj would want to know the reasons for not translating it into a double century. So, Yuvraj developed his game with an eye always on getting big scores.

Tarif and Yograj drilled one thing into the minds of their sons - the importance of playing match-winning innings. "I always told Honey to be selfless. Never bat for yourself and serve the interest of the team. The best gift for me was not a century but a match-winning innings," said Tarif, who informed how Kaif would point out flaws in his father's batting on occasions he saw him bat in a match.

Yograj was no different. To make his son understand the nuances of the game and raise him as a sportsman of worth, he sent him to attend the annual cricket clinic conducted by Bishan Singh Bedi. It was a wonderful experience for both Yograj and Yuvraj and the young man learnt the lessons well.

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"I learnt a lot from my father," admitted Yuvraj, even as he reflected on the innings that paved the way for India winning the final at Lord's. "Believe me, I and Kaif were confident. I just kept telling Kaif not to lose his wicket. That was the key," said Yuvraj from his room at the Crowne Plaza in St. James.

"I wasn't sure we would make it but once the partnership happened I and Yuvraj vowed not to do anything silly. There was nothing in the pitch to cause any worry and we knew we can make it when the bowlers allowed frustration to affect them. I enjoyed every moment of it but full credit to the team because I think it was a collective effort. It's nice to contribute to a victory and in that sense it was a great feeling," said Kaif, who conceded he was compelled to screen the calls because of the number of admirers wanting to reach him.

Even as the frenzied reaction by the media, Board and the corporate world continues, the two youngsters have pledged not to allow this success affect their focus. "This is just a small step," Kaif said. Yuvraj agreed too. They are down to earth.