Every Indian cricket fan remembers the NatWest Trophy final at the Lord’s when Mohammad Kaif and Yuvraj Singh orchestrated one of the greatest ODI wins for India, which triggered Sourav Ganguly’s famous shirt-waving celebration.

On July 13, 2002, a 21-year-old Kaif struck a memorable 87 not out as India successfully chased down 326, recovering from a precarious 146/5.

Last month, on the 16th anniversary of that historic triumph against England, Kaif decided to retire from the game. Kaif, who was a livewire on the field, bid adieu to cricket at 37.

Having been actively involved in guiding youngsters after his international career ended in 2006, Kaif leaves the sport a satisfied man.

In an exclusive interview with MyNation, Kaif walked down memory lane, reflecting on his cricket career. Excerpts:

My Nation: Are you happy with your international career that spanned 13 Tests and 125 ODIs?

Mohammad Kaif: People dream of playing at least one international match and they can’t do it because of the population we have in India. There are so many people playing this sport. The competition is so high. Overall, I am happy with the way I finished my career. I did not play for long but I was able to create moments which I will cherish throughout my life. Those moments reflect when I travel. People at airports, restaurants and other places greet me and talk about my fielding, catches, the Lord’s match (NatWest final), the tour of Pakistan in 2004, World Cup 2003, where I had that partnership with Sachin Tendulkar against Pakistan, and other things. It feels nice. I played less but I was able to create moments. It is no use playing for a long time and not being able to leave indelible marks on people’s minds. It is important to create memories in the minds of our fans. I was able to do that and I am happy with that.

MN: Coming through age group tournaments, being one of the best youngsters and winning the Under-19 World Cup in 2000 helped you to bag an India cap. How important are these age group tournaments for a young cricketer in India?

Kaif: It is very important. When we played, there was not much exposure. Now, the BCCI has done a great job with Rahul Dravid as the coach of the Under-19 and India A teams. What else do you need? When we played we won the maiden World Cup (youth) title in Sri Lanka in 2000. It happened because we had some great talent. Now, it has gone to a different level. There are Under-16, Under-19 tournaments and zonal academies have also come up. The National Cricket Academy (NCA) has also done a great job. And at the same time, young players have responded well to the system. The BCCI has done a remarkable job for junior cricket.

MN: You played under different captains – Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Virender Sehwag, and Rahul Dravid. Who was the best?

Kaif: For me, Ganguly is number one. He had some tough years when he became captain. When he took over, the Indian team was going through a rough patch. He had to rebuild the team with coach John Wright. Ganguly had a different set of challenges and he did a great job backing youngsters, including me. Of course, he had the help of seniors like Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Anil Kumble, and Javagal Srinath. He got the balance right for the team with a mix of seniors and youths. He backed the youngsters. Ganguly laid the foundation and then MS Dhoni took over.

Click here for the second part of Mohammad Kaif's interview with MyNation

MN: In 2006, India won a Test series in West Indies. Not many victories have come in the Caribbean islands. You played your part with 148 not out in the second Test. How was the feeling to win there?

Kaif: It was my first Test century. I was happy to achieve that milestone. I played well in that series, which was my last as an India player. In the ODIs too, I scored a couple of half-centuries. Overall, it was a good tour for me. We did not have many victories overseas and we cherished it under the leadership of Rahul Dravid.

MN: Would you like to share your views on former India coach Greg Chappell? He was the coach when India won the series in West Indies in 2006.

Kaif: He was very good. His batting tips were brilliant. When it came to talking about batting, he was outstanding. He had brilliant ideas, he could talk about various match situations and he could connect with a batsman’s mind. But when it came to man management, he was lacking. And also, he failed to understand the Indian system, Indian culture. He also failed to understand the background of the Indian players, where they came from. That went against him. Overall, I enjoyed his batting tips.

MN: Being one of the best fielders India has ever produced and maintaining high fitness standards, don’t you think you could have carried on for some more time and not retired at 37?

Kaif: Yes, I could have continued. Still, I am keeping myself fit. The last time I played for India was in 2006. After that, I kept playing in domestic tournaments. I also had different roles to play, like mentoring players from Uttar Pradesh — Suresh Raina, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, RP Singh, Praveen Kumar and others. At first, I tried to make a comeback to the Indian team and when it did not happen, I started helping youngsters in Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. I played the game because I loved it. I had a passion for cricket. I still love this game. However, I find it tough to carry on playing. I have a young family. My son is six and my daughter is one-year-old. Even Ranji Trophy takes a couple of months. So I decided to start my second innings in cricket and continue to be associated with it. These were some of the key factors behind my retirement.