Tall, reticent, and extremely valuable
On January 28, 2003, Mumbai needed 127 to beat Himachal Pradesh in a Ranji Trophy match when Wasim Jaffer received news that his mother Zulekha had died. Jaffer was shattered and unsure of whether to play on the final day. Chandrakant Pandit, then coach of the Mumbai team who had suffered a similar fate, spoke to Jaffer of his experience to which Jaffer replied, "I'll do it for my team". He scored 47 off 51 balls as Mumbai won without losing a wicket. Only then did Jaffer leave to attend his mother's funeral.
Determination is one of Jaffer's stronger suits and he prefers to make statements on the field rather than off it. Ask around for a tale of some sort from his past, and apart from descriptions of his long innings in domestic cricket, you draw a blank. Soon after scoring 192 on the first day of the Kolkata Test, Jaffer faced the media. When a journalist asked if he was distracted - or forced to concentrate harder - by the presence of his wife Ayesha in the stands, who was frequently on the giant screen, Jaffer only said, "I always know where my wife is," displaying a sense of humour that isn't always obvious.
What is obvious, though, is Jaffer's tremendous hunger to score. In Indian cricket, the role of an opening batsman is not to be envied. They don't get too many chances, and once dumped, there isn't a way back. Ask Sadagoppan Ramesh, Shiv Sunder Das, or even Aakash Chopra. But Jaffer has done it twice - he made his debut in the home series against South Africa in 2000-01 and was dumped, following which he was picked again for the 2001-02 tour of West Indies before being dropped once again.
"I've gone through a lot of lean phases in my career," Jaffer said. "I've been brought up like that. I've been dropped two or three times and gone back to Ranji Trophy, got big scores and come back. I'm used to scoring big. It's just that I haven't done that much in international cricket and I'll try to do that from here on."
On the day, Jaffer faced 255 balls and was rarely beaten. Even Rahul Dravid was troubled early on, especially by Sohail Tanvir, but Jaffer hardly played a false stroke. He has always scored a high percentage of his runs in boundaries, looking exceptionally elegant when he strikes the ball through the leg side, and he hit 32 fours today.
"I don't think I've batted so fluently so far in my Test career," Jaffer conceded at the end of the day, but refused to compare this knock with his double-century against West Indies in Antigua. "All hundreds have been special. I've got only few so I'll count all of them as special. Scoring 192 runs in a day is something I haven't done before. It feels good that we're in a strong position and I've got runs."
Jaffer has five centuries in 23 Tests but you can break his career up into two phases. In the seven Tests he played before his latest comeback, and the 16 he has played since. In Phase I, Jaffer made 261 runs at just over 20, scoring three fifties and no hundreds. Since returning to the team against England at Nagpur, Jaffer has been a different batsman. He's not so hampered by that half stride forward, is being trapped half-cocked much less, and has been far more assured outside the off stump. And it's shown in his numbers; an average of 41.89 with five hundreds, one of them a double.
"I was conscious that I have got a few starts in the England series [earlier this year] and did not convert them into hundreds," Jaffer said. "The same happened in the Ranji Trophy so I was a bit conscious and tried to be focused once I was past 60-70."
And focus he did, past 100 and then 150 and to the doorstep of 200 while VVS Laxman, the man who owns an epochal 281 at this ground, sat padded-up and watched. In a team of stroke-makers Jaffer barely gets mentioned, and more talk is centred round players who aren't even in the Test side. Almost without anyone noticing, Jaffer has become the third highest run-getter in the world this year behind Jacques Kallis (1125) and Kevin Pietersen (881), with 718 to his name so far. Contrary to popular belief Jaffer isn't bland or colourless, just quiet, and at the moment very valuable to this Indian team.
Anand Vasu is an associate editor at Cricinfo