They came up with special efforts

WHAT a fantastic victory it was for Indian cricket at Lord's. Just the kind of tonic the side required, now that the countdown to the World Cup has already begun.

A sensational victory it was, thanks to Yuveraj and Kaif. When a one-day international goes all the way down to the wire, it becomes that much more difficult to hold one's nerve. It turns into a test of character really.

A thousand things can go through a cricketer's mind, and he does have to keep the negative thoughts out and concentrate on the job on hand. He has to put mind over matter.

All this is easier said than done. The pressure on the cricketers during the end overs, when they have to keep an eye on the asking rate, is immense. The batsmen have to score at all cost, and the bowlers and the fielders too have the gun on them.

It is a question of the survival of the fittest and the strongest. Not just physically, but mentally as well.

Cricket, apart being a contest of skills, is a mental game. The ones who come through have the strength of mind to back their ability.

Too often we have seen youngsters with oodles of talent, who lost their way along the treacherous path because they didn't quite possess the temperament to back their skills as a player.

In short, the demands of a big contest got to them, they succumbed under the weight of expectations. It is here that the signs from Kaif and Yuveraj are so encouraging.

They came up with special efforts when their team was on the brink, when almost everyone had given up hope. They made their performances count for their team, which is quite the most important achievement.

However, their real test will come in the future battles when an expectant nation would expect similar efforts from them each time they strode to the crease. They will have to keep their head firmly on their shoulders, for it is so easy to get swept away by celebrity status.

I have reasons to believe that both these young men will only get better with experience. And their confidence will brim by taking part in more contests. The stakes in cricket these days, with millions to be made out of endorsements, apart from the sizable match fee, are incredibly high and the two would surely realise the price of failure.

I was particularly impressed by Kaif. He remained so calm under pressure, and was willing to take so much responsibility upon himself.

This is a special quality in a young cricketer, and Kaif is obviously someone who has a lot to offer to Indian cricket. His was among the finest ODI innings I have seen from an Indian.

The young man deserved every bit of the adulation, and the scene at Lord's after the Indians had successfully pulled off a stirring run chase was reminiscent of our famous victory in the '83 World Cup final. The surge of emotions during those heady moments was simply overwhelming.

Kaif is one of the fittest cricketers around. This was evident when he quickly went for the second run. Following an overthrow, he raced for the winning run, after diving to complete the first.

The feature of the knock was the manner in which he paced it, in keeping with the needs of the side. The explosive Yuveraj Singh was at the other end when Kaif walked in, and he wisely played the second fiddle, even as Yuveraj produced the big blows.

Yuveraj played a wonderfully attacking innings, but he would have been disappointed that he was not there at the end to finish things off.

India could have so easily lost, and it is important for the set batsmen to see their side through.

India was lucky that Kaif was around till that decisive brace, and this humble cricketer from Uttar Pradesh has a lot of cricket ahead of him.

Kaif's heroic knock took my mind back to the Sharjah final of '86 when Javed Miandad came up with that out of the world innings. Everything appeared lost for Pakistan and the required run rate had climbed to over seven, and we were on the verge of what would have been a memorable victory.

In those days, anything over six was considered extremely difficult. What made Miandad's task more difficult was that he had only the tailenders for company.

I was close to the middle, and I vividly remember Miandad virtually pleading with the tailenders to stay with him. He desperately wanted to win the game for Pakistan.

In the end he did just that. Pakistan required a boundary off the last delivery and Miandad struck Chetan Sharma for a six. That victory triggered a chain of triumphs for Pakistan.

The match also marked one of the most disappointing moments of my career, and the defeat, in a duel we should have won, still rankles. Yet, we have to admire the sheer effort of Miandad in an adverse situation, his will to win.

Like Miandad, Kaif's application and resolve in an virtually hopeless situation for India has to be applauded. Unlike Miandad though, he is an extremely quiet cricketer who lets his bat to do the talking.

But then, cricketers are different. What matters in the end is whether or not they can deliver. Kaif has miles to travel before he can match Miandad in deeds. However, beneath his calm exterior is a burning desire to win.

Yuveraj's dash and flair that pegged the Englishmen back was admirable too. He has a temperamental streak to him, but his maturity was evident in the final. He has come on a lot mentally, and is quite different customer ever since his comeback against Zimbabwe at Hyderabad this year.

India's win in the NatWest final could also signal a memorable phase for Indian cricket. It thus becomes important to cash in on the gains of victory.

Actually, Kaif's innings had shades of Michael Bevan, that clinical finisher, in it. Bevan paces his innings beautifully, picks up his ones and twos, runs like a hare between the wickets, and produces the big strokes in between.

Crucially, he guides the team, through troubled times, and stays till the very end. Kaif did much the same against England at Lord's.

And, like Bevan, he is a match-winner. But then, to emulate the Australian, he will have to make consistency his hallmark. Kaif has it in him to accomplish just that.