Don't hurry, be happy. That is Wasim Jaffer's attitude to life on the cricket pitch. He takes his time to take strike. He takes his time to walk. A languid grace defines his strokes.
Friday was the opening day of India's second Test against Bangladesh. It was a day of prayer for Jaffer. It was also a day of reckoning. His reputation had shrunk after two zeroes in the first Test in Chittagong. The 29-year-old responded to the challenge with the same sense of calm. By day's end, he had redeemed himself with 138, his fourth Test century. India finished at 326 for no loss. Captain Rahul Dravid (88) and Sachin Tendulkar (9) were at the crease with both openers, Jaffer and Dinesh Karthik, retiring hurt. Karthik cramped when closing in on his first Test century. Jaffer suffered nausea and dehydration.
If Jaffer ended his run bankruptcy, Karthik made another fat deposit in his account. The 21-year-old, who took first strike on Friday against Mashrafe Mortaza to reduce the pressure on Jaffer, hit 82 before being carried off the field. “I told him to take strike,” Jaffer admitted. “I did not want to pretend that I was a brave man.”
“Heads or tails?” was the question the two captains, Rahul Dravid and Habibul Bashar, faced at the toss. The answer came without anyone resorting to phone-a-friend. Bashar's proved to be the 'sahi jawaab'.
Then came the shocker. Bangladesh, playing their last Test under coach Dav Whatmore, opted to field on a pitch that had as much in it for bowlers as Ibiza for Buddhists. “We misread the wicket,” Whatmore said afterwards, explaining that the decision to field was collective.
To make the decision work for them would have required thrust, luck and discipline — Bangladesh had none. Fast bowler Shahadat Hossain, one of their weapons in Chittagong, suffered an illness. Then Saqibul Hasan and Mohammad Rafique dropped Karthik (on 10) and Jaffer (on 40), respectively. Whatmore must have given them a piece of his mind.
Except for these two chances, and a strong case for caught behind against Karthik off fast bowler Mohammad Sharif, India dominated. Watched by their wives, Jaffer and Karthik wore down the Bangladesh bowling.
A side ranked No. 10 in the Test rankings on a dead wicket is not exactly a stiff test for an international batsman. But circumstances can change things. After the nightmare of Chittagong, Jaffer had to prove himself on Friday.
He did it by getting his eye in, at the same time not being so cautious so as too go in a shell. His first four was a pull off Rasel. As he got comfortable, the other strokes in his range shone through. He reached his century by on-driving Rafique for four.
It was Karthik, however, who flowered first, helping India improve their run rate after lunch. Unfazed despite being singed on the thigh thrice by Mortaza, he was unhesitant to play strokes around the ground. He smacked three fours in a row off Mortaza in the second over after lunch. Next, he explored third man, steering Rasel for four. Later, there were two cover driven twins, although not identical, off Rafique. Another two followed in a Sharif over. But the heat got to him, once again raising questions about the sense in playing in this weather and the schedules that leave no other option. He had to leave the field.
Administrative manager Surendra Bhave later said that Jaffer and Karthik would be fit to play on Saturday. “As of now they are being monitored. They have almost recovered and will be ready to play tomorrow,” he said.