Wasim Jaffer, who is presently playing his 100th Ranji game and in sight of becoming the highest run-getter in the history of Ranji Trophy, looks back at his long career in an exclusive interview with Cricketcountry.
By Nishad Pai Vaidya
Mumbai captain Wasim Jaffer is walking between milestones. Last week he completed his 200th first-class game and today - December 21, 2011 – he is playing his 100th Ranji Trophy match – against Punjab. He is also a few runs away from becoming the highest run-getter in the Ranji Trophy.
In an exclusive interview to CricketCountry.com, Jaffer looks back at his long journey, revisits his best efforts and, for the first time, voices his opinion on the Ajit Agarkar drama that shook Mumbai and Indian cricket.
Q: As you complete 200 first-class games, what are the most cherished moments in your long career?
Wasim Jaffer (WJ): I think winning the Ranji Trophy on seven occasions were the happiest moments. It doesn’t come too often in a player’s career; many complete their career without ever having been part of a winning a Ranji Trophy team. I am fortunate to have been a part of the Mumbai team that won seven titles during my career.
Q: Of the seven Ranji Trophy triumphs, was the 2009-10 final against Karnataka the most special?
WJ: Personally, yes. It was, as it turned out to be, a very exiting final. In my first season, I had played the final against Delhi, and that too was a very close game. We had a very strong side then and the thought of losing would never occur. But in the 2009-10 final, we were playing away from Mumbai against a very good side that had enjoyed a very good season. During that season we had a few rough games as we struggled in the league, but in the knock-outs we played outstanding cricket. In the final we came back from behind and won the game. That makes it very special.
Q: Mumbai has a special place in Ranji Trophy history. What is it like being part of the awesome Mumbai team in the dressing room? What is it that Mumbai cricket teaches that other doesn’t?
WJ: Mumbai has a very rich cricket history, despite being a small city when compared to state teams in the competition. The kind of cricket we play is very unique. From the initial phases, a Mumbai cricketer is trained to play in adverse conditions. We play in the Kanga League; we play in maidans where the wickets are not very good. The players do not find themselves in their comfort zone. Whether you are a batsman or a bowler, you are taught to grind it out in adverse conditions. That is the forte of Mumbai cricket as players are taught to face tough situations. I was lucky to have made my debut under Sanjay Manjrekar’s captaincy. In the dressing room there were so many quality players and one could learn a lot from them.
But I would say cricket has improved everywhere. For example, Rajasthan won the Ranji Trophy last year, Jharkhand won the one-day trophy. This speaks of their improvement. I think most of the states have got very good facilities. NCA has done a good job. Youngsters go there and learn a lot of things. Probably 10-15 years ago such things were not there. Cricket has expanded in India and smaller states are producing good cricketers and they are also getting results in the Ranji Trophy. This is very good to see.
Q. You are one of the few Indians who scored two double hundreds in Tests. Is there a feeling in you that you haven’t got the kind of due you deserved from the national selectors?
WJ: Yes, but it’s long gone now. I have been out of the side for nearly four seasons. There are a lot of ifs and buts... To be honest I don’t regret anything. I was lucky enough to have played for the country and played for that long. I did what I could do. I scored double hundreds against Pakistan and the West Indies. Those are special moments. I got a hundred in South Africa which I don’t think any opener from India had done before. So I have no regrets. I still play Ranji Trophy thinking that if I do well here then I can get a chance to play for India again. You never know. I am keeping my fingers crossed and try and do my best. I perform in the hope that I will get another opportunity.
Q: Your name was being talked about, at least in the media, during the recent England tour. Are you still hopeful of making the Indian team with Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir at the top and Ajinkya Rahane waiting in the wings?
WJ: Yes, and that is why I now bat lower down the order. I bat at No 3 or No 4 to let the selectors know that I am open to the idea of batting anywhere in the order. That’s the idea. Moreover it provides balance to the team as most of the time Ajinkya Rahane and Rohit Sharma are not available for Mumbai. We do lack a bit of strength in the middle order as Ajinkya bats at No 3 and Rohit bats at No 4. When both are unavailable, the middle order becomes a bit weak. So that was the idea and give a signal to the selectors that if at all they needed me in the middle order I can do that and also open as that is not new to me. We are in the last phase of the Ranji season now. After Wednesday’s last league game, the knock-outs follow. If I score heavily in the remaining games, my name can still come up for selection.
Q: You are close to becoming the highest run-getter in Ranji Trophy. What keeps you going? Any goals, milestones that you would like to achieve?
WJ: Every season the aim is to score heavily and there is no doubt about it. The aim is to be the best batsman in the team and try and score as many runs as possible. While I do that, I enjoy playing cricket for Mumbai and still knocking at the doors of the Indian team. That keeps me motivated. Once this motivation goes, I will consider other options. At the moment I am enjoying captaining Mumbai and trying to win the Ranji Trophy. Every time I bat, I aim to score a hundred. But that, obviously, doesn’t happen every time. But I keep working towards scoring as many runs as possible. I know that there aren’t many seasons left, so I will contribute as much as I can for Mumbai cricket. I’ll enjoy doing that.
Q: Looking back at the journey, what is the single biggest factor in your success and longevity?
WJ: I think I have always been like this. My nature has always been laidback. I do not stress too much about what the other players are doing and don’t go into too many details such as how many runs my contemporaries have got. I believe in hard work and in destiny. As long as I keep working hard, I will get whatever is written in my destiny. I am happy with whatever I have got. That’s how I am. Even if I hadn’t played as much cricket I have, I would have still have been happy. You try your best and leave the rest to the Almighty. He will reward you for whatever hard work you have done.
Q: If you were to pick five of the top innings in your career, what would they be and why?
WJ: Difficult to pick five, but my triple hundred in my second first-class game is special as that was the innings that cemented my place in the Mumbai side and Indian cricket. If I hadn’t scored those runs, I may not have played for Mumbai for so long. That knock would always be close to my heart.
The 98 I scored against Tamil Nadu in the 2002-03 Ranji Trophy final in Mumbai came in the second innings after Tamil Nadu had taken the lead. We had to get the runs to make a game out of it. Nishit Shetty and I were involved in a partnership of almost 200 runs for the second wicket before I was out lbw for 98. That knock is special because we won the Ranji Trophy. In the first innings I had scored 83 and in the second essay I got 98. So I am lucky that my contribution helped Mumbai lift the championship.
My hundred in South Africa would always be special. I didn’t have a very good time in the first two Test matches. I got 20 odds and was set but threw my wicket away. In the third Test at Cape Town I got 116. That knock will always be at the top of my charts.
The double hundred against Pakistan at Kolkata is another knock I would pick. At the end of the first day I was 192 not out. It just shows that everything went my way and whatever I played came off the middle and went in the gaps. Everything worked for me. Plus it was against Pakistan.
The 133 I scored in a game for West Zone against South Zone in the Duleep Trophy (2005-06) which helped my comeback into the Indian team. Kiran More was the selector then and I was lucky he was there to watch my knock. After that knock I came back into the Indian team.
Q: As the captain of the most successful team in the Ranji Trophy, does the weight of the rich legacy ever burden you? Do you use the same legacy to motivate the young players in your side?
WJ: Most of the players who come into the Mumbai side know what is expected of them. They are already under pressure to perform. To be honest, I do not need to tell them a lot. At times, you need to motivate them and give a pep talk. I do not talk a lot, nor do I show a lot of emotion. So I am not harsh on the players. I let them go their own way, whatever they find comfortable as long as they keep performing. I give a talk if necessary and let them do whatever is comfortable for them. You don’t need to add to the pressure.
Q: Did you feel the pressure when you were leading Mumbai for the first time?
WJ: You do have a few nervous moments. I remember when I was announced as the captain of the side, I felt honoured to lead a side that contains players like Ajit Agarkar and Ramesh Powar. It was a great moment when I got to lead the side. I had a great first season as a captain. I scored the most runs and we won the Ranji Trophy. I also won the Duleep Trophy and Deodhar Trophy to cap a dream season. You wouldn’t ask for more. After a moment you feel relaxed leading Mumbai as there are so many senior players in the side.
Q: How would you like to be remembered by Indian cricket?
WJ: I want to be remembered as a good batsman who tried his best and gave his best every time he played for Mumbai orIndia or any team. If people respect you, remember you and have a kind word to say about you, that’s good enough for me.
Q: Finally, one has not heard your thoughts on the Ajit Agarkar walk-out. Now that tempers have cooled down, what are your thoughts looking back at the incident?
A: I can imagine Ajit’s reaction and can accept that. It’s not easy to sit out of the Ranji side for someone of Ajit’s stature who has played for India for so long and played for Mumbai so successfully. Looking back, I do feel bad about it as we played our entire age group cricket together. Obviously, he took a harsh step. He left the team which didn’t look good. At some point everybody gets dropped. I remember Amol Muzumdar was dropped for the Ranji final in my first season. Sairaj Bahutule got dropped. In short, I think the whole situation could have been handled better.
(Nishad Pai Vaidya, a 21-year-old law student, is a club and college-level cricketer. His teachers always complain, “He knows the stats and facts of cricket more than the subjects we teach him.")