Mohammad Kaif said he was “very excited” to be appointed assistant coach of “exciting” Gujarat Lions, filled with “exciting players”, for the tenth edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL) starting on April 5. Kaif, who recently captained Chhattisgarh in the Ranji Trophy, last played in the T20 competition in 2012 when he appeared for Royal Challengers Bangalore. He was a part of the Rajasthan Royals squad that won the inaugural edition in 2008, and then moved to Kings XI Punjab.
Kaif, who has 259 runs in 29 IPL games, will work with Brad Hodge, Gujarat’s head coach, and Suresh Raina, the captain, who was instrumental in the deal. Kaif was Raina’s captain at Uttar Pradesh in the domestic circuit.
“I know Raina quite well and we have been meeting regularly,” Kaif told Wisden India on Friday (February 17). “Since we have played together, we have a good understanding. I met Keshav (Bansal, the owner) through Raina, had a good chat and things worked out.”
Kaif, a former Under-19 World Cup-winning captain who played 13 Tests and 125 One-Day Internationals between 2000 and 2006, has built a reputation as a good man-manager. He was at the helm when Uttar Pradesh won the Ranji Trophy for the first time in 2005-06, and has since captained Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh as well. He said he would use his experience to help Gujarat, who made it to the qualifiers in their maiden season last year.
“I have played with the likes of Shane Warne, Mahela Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara, Brett Lee, Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers in the IPL and now I will look to share my experience with them,” said Kaif, who will get a chance to work with the likes of Brendon McCullum, Dwayne Bravo and Ravindra Jadeja. “I myself have been the leader and mentor for many years for Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. That helps.”
“My main role would be to focus on local Indian talents as I am still playing domestic matches. The goal would be to dig out young players and nurture them well. I will also have to give my inputs to Brad Hodge about these players as he is not from here” – Mohammad Kaif
Apart from his 3337 international runs, Kaif has been a domestic stalwart, with an aggregate of 10,093 runs from 182 first-class matches. He said that his main role would be to identify Indian talents who could serve the franchise well.
“My main role would be to focus on local Indian talents as I am still playing domestic matches,” he said. “The goal would be to dig out young players and nurture them well. I will also have to give my inputs to Brad Hodge about these players as he is not from here.
“They might have heard about the players through media or something but until and unless you have played with that guy, you won’t know much about the skills that he possesses,” he added. “I have played with most of the local players, so it becomes a bit easier to judge them.”
Kaif revealed that having a young owner in Bansal made the job easier for players and the support staff. “He is very passionate about the game, and he is very honest,” said Kaif. “He supports the players very well like you must have seen in the last year. He was mostly present at all matches to cheer his team, on both good and bad days. We had a good last season, though we lost in the playoffs. Now, other teams know that to beat Gujarat, you will have to be on the top of your game.”
In their debut season, Gujarat ended as table toppers with 18 points but lost both their play-off matches to miss out on a final berth. They released just eight players, including the injured Dale Steyn, and will go into the February 20 auction in Bangalore with a purse of Rs 14.35 crores. Kaif was hopeful of roping in a good set of players to strengthen the squad.
His first coaching assignment, however, does not mean an end to his playing career. “I am really happy to be a part of this lovely team (Chhattisgarh), and we will take a call once the season gets over,” he said.
Kaif is the latest Indian cricketer to get into IPL coaching roster this year, after Kings XI Punjab signed up J Arunkumar and Mithun Manhas.