2002 heroes Yuvi, Kaif vie for one spot

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src='http://www.ndtv.com/convergence/images/thumbnail/ver1/k/kaif.jpg' class='caption'> Yuvraj Singh and Mohammad Kaif, the heroes of the NatWest Trophy win in 2002, would now battle for the lone middle-order spot in the second Test.

Updated: April 15, 2008 12:17 IST
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Almost six years ago in the English summer of 2002, two Young Turks had enabled India to pull off an amazing one-day victory to send then captain Sourav Ganguly into a shirt-wrenching frenzy at the Lords Balcony.

The heroes of that great triumph, one of the best-remembered victories in the 50-over game by India, Yuvraj Singh (69) and Mohammed Kaif (87 not out) have advanced in years but their Test career is at such a stage now that the duo is fighting for one coveted spot in the packed middle-order in second Test against South Africa beginning at Ahmedabad's dustbowl of Motera on April 3.

The Punjab-Uttar Pradesh pair's fabulous and backs-to-the-wall stand of 121 runs against England in the final of the Natwest Trophy on June 13 had helped India recover brilliantly from a hopeless position of 146 for five to chase down a mammoth 325 for five made by the hosts successful, a feat still fresh in the minds of the Indian cricket followers.

Ironically, the same two batsmen, who were members of the Indian under 19 World Cup winning squad previously in Sri Lanka when Yuvraj played under Kaif's captaincy, are now thrown into a contest of musical chairs to grab the lone spot left vacant by the forced absence through a groin injury of master batsman Sachin Tendulkar.

The same duo got the chance to fill in two middle order spots two seasons ago in the West Indies where Tendulkar was again absent due to injury along with Ganguly who had been dropped before making his well-chronicled spirited comeback.

While Kaif made a superb 148 not out in the second Test at St Lucia before losing his Test spot despite standing second in the averages (56.50) after tallying 226 runs, Yuvraj flopped badly to return with a poor average of 17.33.

By a quirk of fate, it was the 26-year-old Yuvraj who got the first chance to resurrect his Test career when the Pakistan team arrived here last season and made full use of this opportunity by making a splendid 169 at Bangalore.

But the stylish left hander then went off the boil to make only 17 runs in the two Tests he played in Australia.

On the other hand the out-of-favour Kaif remained in the wilderness, having also lost his one-day spot meanwhile to newcomers like Suresh Raina, Robin Uthappa and Rohit Sharma, till his recall now to the 15-member Ahmedabad Test squad.

The 27-year-old has regained his spot in the Indian Test squad after a superb stint in the domestic season in which he had scored almost 1,000 first class runs averaging close to 60 per innings.

There's very little to separate the two in the longer form of the game, going by averages (32-plus), but Yuvraj has played nine more Tests than his UP counterpart who has played 13 so far.

Both are splendid fielders, but only one of them is expected to make the playing eleven in Ahmedabad if India stick to their policy in the first Test (Chennai) of going in with only four frontline bowlers.

It's a tough call to make for the Indian think tank while finalising the playing eleven at Ahmedabad, whether to repose faith in Yuvraj in home conditions or give Kaif his first chance since Kingston in June-July, 2006.

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