Wasim Jaffer’s name as a probable candidate for the Gavaskar-Border Trophy was doing the rounds in recent times. The call of the willow and the urge to score runs peaks before a Test series, much more in the event of a home international.
Jaffer, is one among the exceptions; he has tried to harness his talent and harvest runs almost every year since he arrived with a triple century against Saurashtra almost one and a half decades ago.
Having planned the Haj pilgrimage Jaffer missed the first three Ranji Trophy matches and found the magic touch in almost every shot he played since his return. He was one of the reasons for Mumbai winning the 40th national title, but there was personal success too. He became the highest run-getter in the Ranji Trophy and the Irani Cup and also the highest century maker taking his tally to 32. He has scored 1016 runs in eight first-class matches this season with four centuries, including the Ranji final and Irani Cup, and five half centuries.
People, at least in Mumbai, were curious if Jaffer, who will turn 35 on February 16, would be picked again for the fourth time in 13 years. He scored 4 and 6 in his debut match against South Africa at the Wankhede Stadium in February 2000. He managed only 13 and 23 in the Test match at Bangalore and was dropped thereafter.
Jaffer waited for 26 months for the selectors to place faith in him again. He was picked for his first overseas tour in 2002, to the West Indies and thereafter to England. He was not found to be good enough after scores of 12, 51, 86, 0 and 7 in the West Indies and 1, 53, 0 and 5 in England.
Those closely associated with the Indian team said he did not have the heart to challenge himself as Sanjay Bangar showed making 68 and raising 170 runs for the second wicket with Rahul Dravid in the Leeds Test that India won by an innings and 46 runs.
He had everything going in his favour as a conventional opener. He had the technique and composure that actually won an opening slot with Virender Sehwag from the first Test at Lord’s in 2002. These two replaced Shiv Sundar Das and Deep Dasgupta. But after a second setback, Jaffer waited for another three and half years to reclaim his place as an opener.
On this occasion he saw more of good times with 81 and 100 against England at Nagpur in March 2006. Thereafter he made 212 against the West Indies at Antigua, 116 against South Africa at Newlands, 138 not out against Bangladesh at Mirpur and 202 against Pakistan at Kolkata. These were his big scores in 17 Tests; he also scored five half centuries.
Jaffer’s poor run started from his 25th Test against Pakistan. He did not have anything to show during the three-Test series in Australia (his scores were 4, 5, 3, 0, 16 and 11). His confidence and form had dipped against some of the best fast bowling attacks. It continued in the home series against South Africa when he made 73, 9, 19, 15 and 10.
Dilip Vengsarkar, Chairman of the then national selection committee, gave Jaffer a good run before he picked Gautam Gambhir for the away series in Sri Lanka.
The arrival of Murali Vijay (for Gambhir) in the first Test against Australia at Nagpur in November 2008 changed the thinking of the new selection committee chaired by K. Srikkanth. Vijay made 33 and 41 and most importantly a timely 87 against Sri Lanka in the Test at Brabourne and India achieved the No. 1 status in the ICC Test ranking.
Former chairman of the selection committee Kiran More said he would have picked Jaffer in current form even if he had played his last Test five years ago. “He’s in terrific form. I have seen some of this innings in the last and this season. Australia is a strong team and India needs a strong top order to win Test matches. Jaffer has the potential to make big hundreds. He’s experienced. I can understand if Australia was not the team and when you are re-building the side. They should have tried at least one new opener against England at home after the 0-4 defeat in England and Australia. If Jaffer can field for five days, he should have been considered. Both Viru and Gautam have not been doing very well,” said More.
More’s successor Vengsarkar held the same opinion. “I always go by form and fitness, not age of a player. Moreover Australia is a top team and India needs experienced players and Jaffer fits the bill,” said Vengsarkar.
For the record Jaffer has scored 1944 runs in 58 Test innings at 34.10