Mohammad Kaif went through the old routine yesterday. England might have recognised it as the usual stuff with a few knobs on: India collapse virtually to the point of no return, Kaif goes in, ignores the shambles around him, bats like a prince and sets up the victory.
But then there was Andy Flower. Undaunted as he has been throughout a single-minded, frequently single-handed, career, he made 145, a Zimbabwean one-day record, as his side fell short in their Champions' Trophy pool match by 14 runs. It was a valiant effort, and its importance was heightened by the fact that it ensured Zimbabwe's net run-rate did not suffer. England, in the same group, will have noted it assiduously.
Nine weeks ago, Kaif dragged his team exquisitely from the mire at Lord's. The NatWest series final was all but lost when he entered at 146 for 5 and made 87 not out from 75 balls. Every stroke seemed to ask what all the previous palaver had been about.
Yesterday in the Premadasa Stadium here the calamity staring him in the face was probably worse. The result was, remarkably, even more positive. India had been reduced to 87 for 5 against Zimbabwe. One more wicket and India's participation in the Champions' Trophy would not only have been interesting. It might also have been effectively over.
Kaif must have assumed it was a regular day at the office. This time he was able to complete the century denied him at Lord's only by the arrival of the winning post. He scored 111 not out from 112 balls and became only the second player in one-day internationals to reach three figures batting at No 7. (Not many have made 87, either.)
Anything that followed was likely to be overshadowed, and Andy Flower's typically prodigious effort for Zimbabwe was no exception. Once more, he stood virtually alone on the burning deck. Once more you were entitled to wonder that if he were to stop, so might Zimbabwe. But Flower the wicketkeeper had also missed a run-out opportunity by dropping the ball when Kaif was 81.
For Kaif, it was not quite a case of taking up where he left off. He has had three innings since that famous Lord's match. They were all for Leicestershire, where he was registered for a few days, and for whom he made 13 and 43 against Surrey in the Championship and 60 not out against Yorkshire in the Norwich Union League. But it was still altogether seamless international batting.
There were only eight fours in this particular act of salvage, five of them in his last 26 runs. But his running of singles before then, his ease in finding open spaces and the assurance of the pace with which he hit the ball, allowed him to run 55 singles. Rather him. It was another clammy Colombo day.
Kaif cannot make the Indian middle order for Test matches (he has played four games) because the present incumbents are so accomplished. At 21 there is time yet. As it is, he extends the one-day batting almost to an unconscionable level.
It is a deliberate selection policy and it is working. It probably needs to. In the early part of their innings India seemed to be hitting a boundary one ball and losing a wicket the next. The long tail meant that they were not reduced solely to consolidation as Kaif and the inevitable Rahul Dravid rebuilt the innings. The only other man to make a century at seven was Hashan Tillekeratne, for Sri Lanka six years ago in a losing cause.
Zimbabwe, not always as robust as they were once, made a grand fist of it on a slow pitch. Flower bloomed but met the old insurmountable one-day problem: too much to do, not enough time to do it.
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