Exclusive Interview:”It wasn’t easy to leave Mumbai”, says Wasim Jaffer: Endurance and Resolution. These two words go hand in hand with a certain gentleman from Mumbai who came, saw and has conquered the domestic circuit in India with unparalleled efficiency. Yet, you would think twice before associating the word ‘conquer’ with Wasim Jaffer.
In a time, when the nation has got berserk over the issue of intolerance, this man seemingly defies the odds and exhibits unending fortitude every time he steps on the 22 yards. Recently, CricFit correspondent Ritam Basu caught up with the marathon man (as he is fondly called by Rohit Sharma) and got into the conversation with the man who has 17,140* First Class runs to his credit. Only two weeks ago, Jaffer set a new record by becoming the first player to surpass the 10,000 run mark in the Ranji Trophy.
Jaffer also happens to be highest run-getter in the Irani Cup and the Duleep Trophy and holds the record for the most number of centuries scored in the Ranji Trophy (35). The 37-year-old spoke his mind on a variety of subjects, ranging from his international career to his move to Vidarbha. In the end, the chat turned out to be an extensive one like many of his famous innings.
Q: After being in the Mumbai dressing room for 19 years, how?
Jaffer: Look, it’s always going to be a tough call to part ways with something you’ve been associated with for ages. By the grace of God, I was able to win several accolades during my stint with Mumbai. I had been getting offers from various other sides in the domestic circuit but even a couple of years ago, I didn’t consider those options. Then last season, I sustained a fracture on my right index finger, which forced me to miss a couple of matches for Mumbai.
It was then that I sat down and relaxed and took some time off to decide about my immediate future. In the twilight of your career, you would want to face new challenges and test yourself in unfamiliar territories. I am glad that Vidarbha approached me with a stimulating offer. The youngsters in the side are keen learners and I would be delighted if I can help these youngsters improve their game. Mumbai did a decent job without my services last season, which encouraged me to go ahead with my decision.
Q: And, did you consult your family members before making the call?
Jaffer: Yes, of course. This was a big call and naturally, my family had to be consulted.
Q: You have made an extensive cricketing journey. What were your early days like and how did you rise through the ranks?
Jaffer: For me, cricket has become synonymous with life. I came through a system which is typical of the Mumbai School of cricket. I donned the Mumbai jersey for close to two decades; right from my Under-16 days. I hail from a very humble background, where we were always taught to be grounded and firm footing. I am grateful to my parents, especially my father who always lent his support during my younger days. I got my first taste of success when I won my first Kanga League title. Later, I would go on to win six consecutive Kanga League titles.
Q: Wasim Jaffer has made his presence felt time and again by notching up big scores (daddy hundreds if I can quote the great Graham Gooch) across all age levels- 400* in a school match, 314* in your second Ranji match. What’s your success recipe?
Jaffer: Ummm.. (Pauses a little and proceeds to say) There’s no success recipe as such. The cricketing system in Mumbai demands oozes of patience and perseverance from the players. We have been trained to stick on the crease for hours and hours; even if it requires us to spend long, hectic days under the rays of the unabated sun. So, what you are referring to as my success attributes to the cricketing structure in Mumbai- where cricket is always taught the hard way.
Q: Some fond memories. You were recalled to the Indian Test squad in 2005 after a three-year layoff and you reposted the selectors’ faith by scoring your maiden Test hundred against England in Nagpur. When was it that you realized that it was your day and could make a significant impact?
Jaffer: Yes, that knock has left an indelible impression on my mind. We were trailing England by 70 odd runs in the first innings. Batting in the fourth innings of the game, my task was well cut out. I was required to negotiate the English bowlers on the final day and got an opportunity to build solid innings. It was when I reached my fifty, I perceived that if I could work my way through a patient period, I would go on to make a big score. Eventually, that happened for me and I shall always be grateful to the Almighty for helping me achieve that milestone.
Q: You had a splendid run in 2006 when you scored three Test tons. First at Nagpur against England, followed by a double hundred in Antigua and getting the third on a springy Newlands surface. How did you tune into different surfaces and against different bowling attacks?
Jaffer: Yes, you are right. Although I scored my first 3 Test centuries in different countries, my approach towards batting remained the same. Whether you are playing in India or in the West Indies, the prerequisite for a batsman in Test cricket remains unaltered. You will have to negotiate the new ball and lay a solid foundation for the team. In that way, all these tons have this one thing in common. Personally speaking, the century which I scored in Antigua was more satisfying. It was my first Test double hundred and the occasion was special. I batted for a considerable amount of time (his stay at the crease accounted for 500 minutes in the 2nd innings of that game) and was happy to contribute to my team’s total. The town at Newlands will also be right up there. I wasn’t doing well in the series until I stepped on the field in Cape Town. South Africa’s bowling attack was intimidating. I worked my way through an enduring period before I reached my fifty. Your basics will have to be impeccable when you are playing in such conditions. I keep my job simple and adjust my technique according to the demands of different conditions.
Q: Your erstwhile opening partner, Virender Sehwag has just hung up his boots in international cricket. You reckon it’s an apt call or should he have given some more time to make a bid for a comeback?
Jaffer: He will be missed. ‘’Bohot badly banda the Viru’’ (He was a great chap). I am nobody to judge whether he has taken an appropriate decision by retiring from international cricket. He has served the nation for over a decade and has made an immense impact on the way the game is played nowadays. At his age, you cannot expect a person to deliver consistent scores every time he takes to field. His reflexes haven’t been the same and he is honest enough to admit that. Life moves on. At the end of the day, it’s his call and you ought to respect it. I am fortunate enough to have opened the innings for India with Virender Sehwag as my batting partner.
Q: You were a member of the Indian side which won the Pataudi Trophy in 2007. Please share your memories pertaining to that series? How was Rahul Dravid like as a Captain?
Jaffer: It happens to be a defining landmark of my career. Winning overseas is never easy and for us to defeat England on their home soil does speak volumes of the quality of the Indian team back then. I remember Zaheer Khan leading the charge in the bowling department and inspiring the entire unit right throughout the series. England boasted of Matthew Hoggard at that time. He had become a menacing bowler by that time. But, we managed to keep him mum right throughout the series. So that worked in our favor. And Rahul Dravid was an exceptional Captain. He was cool, composed and seldom lost his calm. Even though he didn’t lead India for a long time, he excelled in almost all the tasks he was assigned. The senior pros in that side namely Dada (Sourav Ganguly), Sachin, (VVS) Laxman, (Anil) Kumble were instrumental in bringing the team together and formulating a collective approach towards the game. I often received tips from Rahul bhai and Sachin.
Q: According to you, who are the two best openers in international cricket at the moment?
Jaffer: I reckon Alaistar Cook and David Warner have been going through a purple patch in recent times. They are doing really well.
Q: You said in an interview not too long ago that you are not Sachin Tendulkar to receive a lofty farewell at the Wankhede Stadium. Don’t you think MCA could have given you a fitting send off?
Jaffer: To be honest, I was misinterpreted in that interview. I have done my bit for Mumbai in my career and I owe every single achievement of my career to Mumbai. What I meant was that my I am nowhere close to what Sachin has achieved in his career. So, when it comes to receiving a proper farewell, I cannot expect myself to enjoy similar commemorations as him. MCA was always there by my side and I really do not pay any heed whatsoever to thinking about such trivial things. My primary focus has always been on refining my game and barely have I mulled over anything else.
Q: A lot of questions have been asked about international cricket. Let’s shift our focus to domestic cricket for the time being. Which side do you think is the best contender to lift the Ranji Trophy this time around?
Jaffer: I think Karnataka stands a good chance of winning the title this season. They have been playing together as a unit for quite some time now. It’s a balanced side and is managed well.
Mumbai is another challenger to thrive in 2015/16. The youngsters in the current Mumbai set up are endowed with good skills.
Q: What is it about Vidarbha that excites you the most?
Jaffer: Since you’ve asked this, I must confess that my association with Vidarbha has been a pleasing experience thus far. As I said before, a player of my age will always look to throw himself against fresh challenges. I was looking for a team which has the scope for me to act as a mentor besides of course entrusting me with the task of scoring runs and winning matches for them. We have a healthy dressing room atmosphere which is filled with ambitious youngsters, who are determined to prove their worth on the side. Only 4 players in the side are aged over 30, so you can probably figure out what the picture of our dressing room is like. Badri (Subramaniam Badrinath) has been a motivational Captain and Paras Mhambrey is doing a fantastic job with the boys. I have known him since my initial days with Mumbai. What makes me happy is that the youngsters look up to seniors like me and Badri in pursuit of learning new things. This naturally excites me. Vidarbha, unlike some of the other teams, did not sign me with the sole expectation of notching up big scores for them. They wanted me to guide the younger lot, something that I am enjoying right now.
Q: Only two weeks ago, you scripted history by becoming the first player to cross the 10,000 run mark in Ranji Trophy at the Salt Lake JU Campus. Must it have been a special feeling?
Jaffer: Surely, it was. I have always dreamt of getting to this stage. It was indeed an extraordinary moment. There are lots of people who have helped me in their various capacities. The feat testifies to their collective effort and the years of painstaking effort I have put into my game.
Q: What’s your opinion about the Mumbai squad for the 2015/16 season?
Jaffer: Mumbai is actually packed with skillful youngsters this season. Look at the young lads. They have been faring reasonably well. The likes of Shreyas (Iyer), Shardul Thakur and Surya (Surya Kumar Yadav) have been flourishing commendably in this edition. A bright future awaits them.
Q: What do you have to say about the Indian openers at the moment? You reckon KL Rahul should be swapped for Shikhar Dhawan in the Test side owing to the latter’s poor form?
Jaffer: No. Dhawan should be persisted with for a few more matches. It’s imperative to get him regain his confidence first.
Q: You average 45.62 in List-A cricket. Don’t you think you should have been given more opportunities in colored clothing for Team India?
Jaffer: See, I don’t want to get into what could have happened and what has happened. At one juncture, I felt that such figures would help me make it into the Indian limited overs squad. Then after one poor series, I was dropped from the side. Then a time came when I stopped bothering about things that were not within my purview.
Q: In 2009, Vijay Mallya, your former IPL owner commented that he had bought a Test side in Royal Challengers Bangalore. What are your thoughts on this?
Jaffer: (In a candid manner) Fair enough. He is free to cast his personal opinion. Whether it was a Test side or not is a different issue, but it did feature some of the best players to have ever played the game. Rahul Dravid, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Jacques Kallis and Anil Kumble- they were all there on that side. You cannot argue with the potentials of the players in context, can you? I can put my hand on my chest and say that we tried our best. One cannot challenge our commitments.
Q: Is IPL the way forward for Indian cricket? Will it prove beneficial in the long run?
Jaffer: I can tell from my own experience that IPL is a spectacle. Every budding cricketer wants to play in front of large crowds and earn a name. However, it’s not the light at the end of the tunnel. Primary emphasis has to be laid on the First Class infrastructure in the country. That said, the tournament has assisted in scouting several young players. Look at Rohit Sharma, Ravichandran Ashwin, and Ajinkya Rahane. These guys were already big names in the domestic circuit, but the IPL somehow managed to bring the best in them. That said, the seed of passion towards the game can only be sowed in First Class cricket and nowhere else. But yes, the IPL does provide a decent platform to youngsters where they can showcase their talent.
Q: What keeps Wasim Jaffer fit at this age? Any 2 tips that you would like to impart to the youngsters who are reading this interview.
Jaffer: I don’t do anything that is ‘out of the box’. I take my practice sessions seriously and hit the nets regularly. Besides, running and training methodically are fundamentals at this level. I would love to share a couple of tips with the youth:-
- Play the game with utmost dedication and sincerity. That should serve as the root source for you to take your game further.
- Practice your basics repeatedly. Do what your coaches tell you; don’t overburden yourself by trying to handle multiple instructions at one time. You need to run a lot in order to strengthen your muscles and hit the nets regularly. That’s an essential element of the germinal stage.
Q: Mr. Jaffer, it’s time for Cric Fit’s widely sought after rapid fire round. Shall we begin?
Jaffer: Let’s get started.
Q: Your nickname.
Jaffer: No nickname as such. People call me Wasim.
Q: Your favorite cuisine.
Jaffer: Indian cuisine.
Q: Your favorite holiday destination.
Q: Favourite actor.
Jaffer: Aamir Khan.
Q: Favourite cricketing moment.
Jaffer: When I notched up my first triple century in First Class Cricket.
Q: One opening batsman you have always modeled yourself on.
Jaffer: Sunil Gavaskar.
Q: Your hobbies.
Jaffer: Watching TV.
Q: One thing you would like to change if given the power to do so.
Jaffer: God has blessed me with a beautiful life. Why do I need to change my past actions then?
Q: If not a cricketer, then what?
Jaffer: Probably, I would have concentrated more on my academics in pursuit of attaining a degree in some field.
Q: You’ve observed the following three gentlemen from close quarters in your career, so you are better placed to respond to this.
Jaffer: Sachin Tendulkar/ Vinod Kambli/ Amol Muzumdar.
Q: Who among the aforementioned three players was the best during their younger days? Do not take any international record into account.
Q: One last question. Now that you have reached the twilight of your career and achieved almost everything that is there in the domestic circuit, how will you keep yourself motivated for the next two or three years?
Jaffer: The game itself is the biggest source of motivation for me. It was so when I was a child and is the same even today. As of now, my lone emphasis lies on helping Vidarbha finish their campaign in a respectable position this season. I will be thrilled if I can impart my knowledge to the cricketers of tomorrow. The game has given me a lot and perhaps it’s time for me to pay something back to the game.