Wasim Jaffer: The marathon man of Indian cricket still going strong
To brush up an epic line, age has not withered Wasim Jaffer’s love for batting, and his latest special in the Irani Cup is another lesson for aspiring Indian cricketerscricket Updated: Mar 18, 2018 12:44 IST
Twenty-three years after making his first-class debut,Wasim Jaffer’s hunger for runs remains unsatiated. The Irani Cup is a platform for selectors to look at options for the national team, but the force of the former India opener’s performance this week has reduced this edition to a celebration of his career and batting.
Silken cover drives, nonchalant flick of the wrists to send the ball racing through midwicket, punches off the back foot and imperious cuts were all on display at the Vidarbha Cricket Association Stadium on Thursday and Friday as the 40-year-old turned the clock back, reminding everyone of what made him a delight to watch when in flow at his prime.
The marathon innings of 286 in Nagpur was more like watching a fight between the batsman and time. A leg injury kept him out of action last season, but Jaffer still hasn’t given up.
The best spinner in the world, R Ashwin, leading Rest of India’s attack, was reduced to a bystander. And standing at slips, young Prithvi Shaw got a perfect lesson in batting.
The victorious U-19 World Cup team skipper is the rising star, but Jaffer’s display would have reminded Shaw of the legacy he has to live up to seeking to fill his big shoes as a Mumbai opening batsman.
“He could have got his hundred and thrown his wicket away, but even in the twilight of his career he tried to maximise his contribution. It’s about attitude,” says Sulakshan Kulkarni, who in Jaffer’s second Ranji game for Mumbai shared a 459-run partnership with him. “Being their professional player, he felt responsible he should do something in the big games for Vidarbha; he made a difference in the Ranji final too.”
The knock, and the manner in which Jaffer has handled career setbacks, has many messages for youngsters. Last year, Vidarbha honoured Jaffer’s contract though he was unavailable due to injury. And he reciprocated this season by playing for free.
Watching the epic knock, Shaw would have been left to rue how at the same venue a few months ago, Mumbai batsmen threw their wickets away against Karnataka in Ranji Trophy despite the conditions demanding caution. Reckless strokeplay led to their elimination.
“How to curb your game according to the situation, have you learnt this from Wasim,” asked Kulkarni, who in 2011-12 was coach of Mumbai, and Jaffer captain. “He has been doing it for 23 years, he did it again. Prithvi was witness to it; it’s a learning no amount of coaching will give him – a past opener passing it on to a future opener.”
After Jaffer was dropped from the India team in 2008, he made runs with a vengeance in Ranji Trophy (1,260 runs in 2008-09). But, it soon became clear the selectors were looking at other options. It didn’t satiate his drive for runs though.
“At one point, he would have realised there won’t be a chance to make an India comeback. How did he motivate himself? Why has he carried on playing for so long? It is simply his love for the game; he plays for the joy of it. It shone through in this innings. He has left his mark on Indian cricket. People will remember his innings for many, many years,” says Kulkarni.
For a supremely skilled batsman, pundits were surprised Jaffer didn’t realise his full potential at international level. For club coach and mentor Sudhir Naik, who picked him in his team, National Cricket Club, as a 16-year-old, the weakness was fitness.
“Given his class, he should have played more than 100 Tests. He was the well-behaved boy, but his languid style of walking gave a wrong impression. I used to point out to him that he would find it difficult to play for a long time for India because of his slow movement on the ground. Selectors look at whether a player is agile or not. It’s important not to give the impression of being lethargic. I told him ‘bend and go faster on the ball and run aggressively between the wickets’. He would make a conscious effort, but forget after half-an-hour and return to his old self,” says Naik.
“He always loved to bat -- at the club, or at the Indian Oil office nets where I coached him for a couple of years. He would never bowl even there. Even if you are not a regular bowler, it helps your fitness.”
The Mumbai cricket culture of that era too was to blame. For batsmen, it was about hundreds. Fitness was secondary.
Thus it was rather ironical when this writer went to meetJaffer at Nagpur during this Ranji season and found him at the VCA Academy gymnasium. The work done was apparent in his epic knock as he batted effortlessly in the heat of Nagpur.
At 40, there’s nothing left for him to prove in cricket. The dreams and heartburns have been left behind. Jaffer has the most runs in almost all premier domestic tournaments. This exhibition (vs Rest of India) was just a display of his love for batting.