Wasim Jaffer looks at his cricket, the moments lived and the challenges ahead
He is the quintessential opener. Technique is paramount and the balance, in aggression and defence, near-perfect. The elegance, the back-foot punch and the front-foot drives and flicks that he carries to the crease have been a trademark of his 17-year-old journey for Mumbai and India. For Wasim Jaffer, the journey has only taken a new bend. What if an India call-up eludes him? Cricket is a stage to celebrate and express for this humble Mumbaikar, who last played a Test in 2008.
“It’s been a good journey,” Jaffer reflects after reaching the landmark of 50 first-class centuries, the feat happening against Vidarbha in the Ranji Trophy contest at the Wankhede Stadium. “I’ve been very fortunate and honoured to have shared the dressing room with players like Sachin (Tendulkar), (Vinod) Kambli, (Sanjay) Manjrekar, Amol (Muzumdar). I learnt so much just by watching them from close. When you play for Mumbai, you can’t relax. Two failures and you have someone ready to step in and take your pace. You have to be on your toes always.
“Making centuries is a habit.” It has been one for this tall opener. The India cap was a huge prize for someone who could not afford to buy a bat. Leaving home in Bandra at 6 in the morning and returning at 9 had been his routine at school.
“This 6 to 9 is the work culture for every school cricketer in Mumbai. Armaan (Jaffer), Sarfaraz (Khan), Prithvi (Shaw) are the new stars of this culture. They are taking the same route, practice day in and day out. What I did was nothing new. I was just following the Mumbai cricket culture.”
His batting has evolved with time, from playing along the ground to going over the top. He was very defensive when he earned his place in the Mumbai team. “Yes, I was defensive. I believed in the age-old style of playing along the ground, leaving the ball, building the innings. Slowly, I added shots. I gained from my stints in minor counties (in England) and from watching the game on television. Different batsmen gave different perspective.”
One has seen Jaffer bring quality to the crease. Cross-batted shots have been strictly kept out of his repertoire. “You have to look for runs. You can’t play one dimensional cricket. Sometimes cross-batted shots may help but not on a consistent basis. You have to be careful because, for a batsman, I’ve always believed it can be a one-ball game. You can succeed with cross-batted shots sometimes but not always and certainly not against decent attacks. There are a lot of ways to score runs but great players like Sachin, (VVS) Laxman, Rahul (Dravid) did not score that way. Viru (Sehwag) was an exception but he was not always cross-batted. Look at (Jacques) Kallis, (Kumar) Sangakkara, (Mahela) Jayawardena. They have been the epitome of straight-bat cricket.”
Jaffer is 35. Four years ago a National selector told him, “You are old for an India spot.” It was certainly disheartening for a batsman who had scored close to 1300 runs in one season of the premier cricket competition of the country. “Well, it did hurt but I took it in my stride because I love cricket and Mumbai gives you that pride and platform to enjoy the game.”
Among the highlights of his 37-Test (1944 runs) career have been the knocks against South Africa at Cape Town (116 in 2007) and West Indies at St. John’s (213 in 2006). He also had a sparkling 202 against Pakistan at Kolkata in November, 2007. In less than six months after that show at the Eden Gardens, he was to play what became his last Test appearance, against South Africa at Kanpur in April 2008.
Jaffer, with 216 first-class matches and 16590 runs, has no regrets. “Honestly, none at all! Earning the India cap was the best positive moment. The Cape Town and Kolkata innings have been close to my heart. And also the eight Ranji Trophy title wins for Mumbai. I have eight Ranji wins. The next best Ranji title wins have been seven (for Delhi). I’ve one more than Delhi. For me, playing for Mumbai has been a great passion. It is the best team to play for in India.”
The Mumbai ace respects the modern cricketers. “The challenges for them are different but I feel the bowling standards have fallen, especially the spinners and swing bowlers. Except for Bhuvneshwar (Kumar) and Praveen (Kumar) there are hardly any quality swing bowlers. Fast bowling has improved with so many 140-plus bowlers. Among spinners only (Ramesh) Powar gives the ball some air. But I don’t blame anyone because spinners have to go by what the captain and the team demands. The IPL (Indian Premier League) has impacted the style of the spinners.”
Cricket has been one great “journey” for Jaffer. “Playing for Mumbai and India was a dream and a great privilege. Coming from a lower middle class family, my father always dreamt that someone from the Jaffer family should do something exceptional. I’m glad I could fulfil his dream. Today, I play because cricket gives me joy.”
It also gives joy to the spectators. Wasim Jaffer remains one of the most compact and entertaining performers on the domestic circuit.