In an exclusive interview with CricketCountry’s Nishad Pai Vaidya, veteran Mumbai opener Wasim Jaffer looks back at yet another Mumbai Ranji Trophy victory. He talks about the ups and downs this season, Sachin Tendulkar’s presence, the Mumbai youngsters and of course the title triumph.
CricketCountry (CC): Mumbai has clinched the title the 40th time, but qualifying for the final wasn’t an easy ride. How do you look back at this journey?
Wasim Jaffer (WJ): It was a tough season. If you play 11 games into the final, you are bound to have some ups and downs. The game against Madhya Pradesh at Indore, the second last league game, was very crucial. If we hadn’t won it outright, we wouldn’t have qualified. That win turned everything around for us – thanks to everybody chipping in, and especially Zaheer Khan, who bowled a great spell. We were playing good cricket before that game, but we knew that it may be down to the last two league matches – against MP or Gujarat. We needed one outright and one first innings lead. After that point, we played some outstanding cricket through to the final.
CC: You spoke about the game against Madhya Pradesh at Indore, which Mumbai eventually won by seven runs. Where does it rank among some of the famous Mumbai victories you have been a part of?
WJ: The best victory I have been a part of is undoubtedly the 2010 Ranji Trophy final against Karnataka at Mysore. Being a final, playing away from home with the crowds rooting for the other side, it was truly special. Karnataka was in form and we managed to beat them by six runs and that is undoubtedly the best game for me.
CC: The new format of the Ranji Trophy has made it very competitive. What are your thoughts on it and its feasibility in the long run?
WJ: To be honest, this format looks good. The committee have scheduled the games well. They have kept the Duleep Trophy first, followed by the Ranji Trophy and then the Irani Trophy – which I think is a very good way to go about it. What used to happen is that the Irani Trophy used to be played the next season and at times players who won the Ranji used to miss out on that. All the 27 teams have a good chance and it is not like they are placed in Elite or a Plate group. Furthermore, they have done well to schedule the T20 tournament before the Indian Premier League.
CC: You came into the side after missing the first few games and then immediately started scoring runs. Was it difficult for you to get back and adjust? How were your preparations like?
WJ: I missed the first three games as I was away on Haj. The team had been through a tough phase. We only won the first two games on the first-innings lead and then lost the third match against Hyderabad. We needed outright wins and some big points to qualify. The team then performed. Zaheer came in, Rohit Sharma also played. The youngsters also did well. Aditya Tare had a fantastic first season. Kaustubh Pawar, Dhawal Kulkarni, Ankeet Chavan, Hiken Shah and the others were very consistent. When I came in, I knew I had to perform, and this time I did not have the pressure of captaincy. Being just a player, I had to focus on my batting and worry about only scoring runs. And it’s something that helped me.
CC: Coming to the semi-final against the Services. A lot of time was lost due to the weather. What can the authorities do to prevent such problems in the future – particularly for knock-out games?
WJ: Technically, they had the right to have the game at their home ground because the last match was played in Mumbai in 1964-65. It was unfortunate that it rained for two nights and the covers were blown away resulting in the water getting on to the wicket. It took two days for it to dry and for the ground to be ready. I always believed that the knock-out games had to be five-day affairs – which helps the best team win and also gives time for a team to come back. That is why the new format is good and the extra day (sixth) – if the game doesn’t finish in five – helped us.
CC: The Ajit Agarkar-Aditya Tare partnership changed the complexion of that game. How difficult was it for them to reconstruct the innings in that situation?
WJ: Both knocks were very important. We were 23 for three – after which Sachin (Tendulkar) and Abhishek Nayar had a partnership. Then we were 169 for six at one stage and in came these guys to add a game-changing partnership of almost 250 runs. It was a special performance. This is what winning the Ranji Trophy is about – performing when the chips are down and when the team is struggling. During the campaign, various players put their hands up in different situations.
CC: Another big final at the Wankhede – a platform not unfamiliar to you. Did you think you would win so convincingly at the start of the game? How much did Cheteshwar Pujara and Ravindra Jadeja’s absence hurt Saurashtra? Would the game have panned out differently had they been there?
WJ: Winning the toss in the final was crucial – as there was something for the fast-bowlers in the wicket. The bowlers bowled very well and we held on to our catches as well. We then backed it up with a good batting performance to take a 200 run lead to take the game away from them. Our bowlers then bowled very well, but we did not expect them to get all-out for 82. Pujara and Jadeja are two big performers for Saurashtra and so are Rohit and Ajinkya Rahane for us. But, they missed Pujara and Jadeja more than we missed our guys. They could have made the difference for them. Once the Indian team is playing, you can’t blame anybody. Jadeja and Rohit are a part of the eleven in the Indian one-day side. If somebody gets injured, you want Rahane or Pujara to be there in the Indian team. Thus, you cannot blame the management for not releasing them. In case something happens in the team, you might need them even though we had won the series.
CC: Sachin Tendulkar came in and scored runs yet again. What is the kind of influence he has on the dressing room by his mere presence?
WJ: Sachin’s presence is always special. You don’t see him play the Ranji Trophy often. I do not know whether we will get to see him in Ranji again or not. The Australian series is coming up and it was a good way for him to prepare. When he plays, everybody is on their toes and they want to perform. It changes the atmosphere when he is around. It is a special feeling to share the dressing room with him. Youngsters who are playing their first, second or third season do not get such an opportunity. To have him around and learn about batting or cricket – there is no one better than him.
CC: You said that we do not know if we will see him again in the Ranji Trophy. Has he given any indication about his future to the dressing room? Is he gearing up for the Australia series?
WJ: No, he has not said anything about it. He is playing Test cricket and I am sure he is playing the Australia series.
CC: In the final, there was a mix-up and Sachin Tendulkar was run-out. What words of motivation did he give you on his way back?
WJ: He just said don’t worry about the run-out and keep batting.
CC: You mentioned a number of youngsters who did well for Mumbai this season. But, who according to you has been the find of the Ranji Trophy 2012-13? Also, how do you think Mumbai will manage such rich spin bowling resources in the near future?
WJ: Aditya Tare is definitely the one. In his first season, he has got 40 odd scalps behind the stumps and over 842 runs with the bat – which included a double hundred and a crucial ton in the semi-final. Ankeet Chavan has done well with the ball, even though I think he could have done better. He got 33 wickets, which is a creditable performance. As far as the spinners are concerned, they have to capitalise on their opportunities. They have to be on their toes with such intense competition.
CC: Finally, India has problems at the top of the order in Test cricket. With another good season under your belt, are you hopeful of a call-up?
WJ: Yes, I am hopeful. My job is to score runs. And, I am always available to play for India.
(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and an analyst, anchor and voice-over artist for the site’s YouTube Channel. He shot to fame by spotting a wrong replay during IPL4 which resulted in Sachin Tendulkar’s dismissal. His insights on the game have come in for high praise from cerebral former cricketers. He has also participated on live TV talk-shows on cricket. Nishad can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nishad_