These two complement each other very well and if these chaps are at the two ends of the pitch, the fielding side has a lot of work on hand.
I first met Yuvraj when we used to play junior cricket together. He was about 15 when I first saw him bat and I was fascinated by his sheer power. He had a God-given gift of timing. And on top of all this he could run like a mad man. He is also a hard-working guy.
He wanted only one thing—the only one thing he could think of. Playing for India. And I think, deep down he had a very strong feeling that he will play for the country. It was for that reason that he would try his hand at bowling though there was nothing exceptional about him as far as bowling was concerned. He never bowled in the matches then at the junior cricket level but he would keep practising at the nets.
He wanted to be an all-rounder. He worked very hard on his fielding for over an hour after the nets. When I look at him now, I feel that he has grown up very well. He seems more mature. He has controlled and channellised his natural aggression.
Yuvraj simply has a great temperament for competitive cricket. Everytime he goes out there on to the field, he wants to win. He is a fun guy outside the ground but when he is playing cricket he is a serious and focused guy who feels very bad when his side loses. He is very brave too. He is like a man going to battle when he walks out to the pitch. But he is a hundred per cent team man. He is always willing to give tips, advise and console. As a natural sportsman Yuvraj is very good at snooker, table tennis and football. I think he scored a goal everytime we played football to warm up before the nets.
On the other hand, Mohammed Kaif is a self-made man. Whatever he is today, he has created it. He was not born with it. Neither was he born with any astonishing gift except one—he has the ability to try and keep on trying till he is good at what he wants to be good at. I cannot think of any other guy in this country who is more hardworking than him. Cricket is not a sport but means his whole life for Kaif. The passion for the game, the only audible thing in an otherwise unusually silent Kaif.
When I was the captain of the under-15 side that won the World Cup beating Pakistan at Lord’s, he was my vice-captain. And I know better than most people that this is a fellow who can give more than just 100 per cent. Body, soul, you name it, he will give it to the game.
Kaif used to bat at number three then. Now he has found a nice position in the Indian team. When we used to play together, we always found him working on his cricket at the nets.
When we would leave in the bus for the hotel, this guy would be doing something or the other on the ground. He would take a separate taxi back to the hotel much later. He is a fitness freak. I don’t think I have seen anybody who has more stamina than him. We used to take this beep test. It’s about running 20 metres with a beep. First it beeps after a long time, so you can run the 20 metres slowly. Then the beeps come faster which means you have to run faster. You keep running up and down this 20-metre stretch for over 25 minutes. I can tell you it’s very tiring. But Kaif was always the best in these beep tests. He was just too fit.
While there are obvious differences in talent, technique and temperament between these two guys, there are a lot of similarities too. I have seen their growth and I know just how sincere, how dedicated they have been. In our country there are just too many talented cricketers. What separates the ultimate winners is sincerity and dedication.
Yuvraj and Kaif have a lot of these qualities. After Sachin got out in the finals of the NatWest series at Lord’s, many people may have given up hope. But as I watched these two guys running around the pitch, I had a feeling that the match was not over yet. It was the best match I have ever seen.
It was the best of Yuvraj and Kaif. Not in terms of statistics and figures but because of the steely temperament that they showed. They just went on and on till it just suddenly dawned upon us, God we may actually win this match. I loved the way Kaif played second fiddle to Yuvraj when he was going great guns. And after Yuvraj’s departure, he played beautifully to take India home.
I am so happy for those guys. I am proud that they are my friends. When we used to play together, the three of us, we used to tell ourselves that we will play for India one day, that we will do everything that we can to play for India, that we will give our lives for the country.
And now the onus is on me. I just have to find my way back into the team. Then we are together again.
(22-year-old Reetinder Singh Sodhi has worn the Indian cap in One-Day Internationals. Before that he captained the Under-15 World Cup-winning squad.)