It is a hard day’s night for Wasim Jaffer. After practising for nearly three hours in the debilitating heat and humidity of the coastal city, he appears far from being in a state to endure another “grind”, as he calls this request for an interview.
But “a promise is a promise” and Jaffer is not the one to welch as he plops into a chair and leans back on its hind legs, his countenance weary, while politely requesting that you hurry up with the queries, a graceful gesture rare from a top cricketer in this age of prima donnas. Jaffer’s batting has often been a study in class and beauty. However, it would be fair to say that after making his debut more than eight years ago, his stop-start international career has left his fans more exasperated than smitten, especially as they feel that with his perfect technique, pliant wrists, composed head and classy back-foot play, they deserved better than a slightly unbecoming average of 35 he has in Tests.
Surprisingly, he agrees with the assessment, an admission that shows candour and humility. “Yes, I have disappointed myself a bit,” Jaffer admits, his voice a bit strained.
“But I believe everything happens for a reason. When I made my debut in 1999-2000, I was raw and inexperienced. I played early. Not everybody is Sachin Tendulkar, after all. I have learnt from that and am more experienced now.” In the light of his “harrowing Australian tour”, a lot of people and critics looked askance at his record, so much so that his place in the Test squad for the upcoming South Africa series had been in doubt, something that he fails to comprehend.
“I’m hurting more than anyone by my failures in Australia, no doubt. But then, a lot of people have failed there. This is not an excuse, just a fact. I tried my level best but somehow things didn’t work out, it wasn’t for the lack of trying. But to doubt my credentials on the basis of three Tests is wrong. I scored a hundred in Cape Town against a very potent South African attack, and barring those three Tests (in Australia), I have been scoring,” he shrugs, the tenor suddenly more aggressive. However, at the same time, he knows that he warded off stiff competition for the opening slot and is thankful to the people who backed him up at “just the right time”. “I would be lying if I said I was completely confident about retaining my place. Gautam has done phenomenally in Australia (in the one-dayers) and Aakash (Chopra) has had an astounding season. So I’m glad that people who mattered showed the confidence in me. Even in Australia, Anil and other seniors always asked me to keep my chin up and backed me. This helped me tremendously,” he says, his face lighting up for the first time in the session.
For someone who has played more than eight years of international cricket, Jaffer shuns limelight rather than courts it. Why so? “Why do I shun limelight?” he asks, repeating the question thoughtfully. “Because I am what I am. I’m not one to jump around and force people to notice me. I’m a simple man who hails from a simple background and won’t do things out of character. People have asked me to change to attract attention but I prefer to let my performances talk. In the end, what you do in those 22 yards matters.” For someone who is usually first in the firing line whenever things go awry, Jaffer is certainly perplexed by why his place is always under the scanner. In fact, being in and out of the team has been a motif of his career. But then, unlike most of his compatriots, he doesn’t blame the media for it. “What could the media have done if I scored a hundred in every match, although it’s unrealistic?” he asks with the hint of a smile. “Yes, I’m hurt by the fact that after every series, people have asked questions of me. When you do well, you get praised like anything. When you don’t, you face brickbats. But I can’t let that get to me.”
It has been a fairly long conversation, in fact, one that has delivered infinitely more that what was expected. But Jaffer shows no sign of irritability, does not even look at his watch to remind you of the initial promise of a “quick interview”.