Jaffer wants Mumbai's youngsters to step up
Inconsistency and immaturity are not the adjectives usually associated with Mumbai's Ranji cricketers, especially their batsmen. But the ongoing season has time and again showcased that the young bunch of Mumbai batting are far from ready to take over the mantle from their seniors. Wasim Jaffer, the bedrock of Mumbai's batting for well over a decade, minced no words in admitting it was a "concern".
"It is a concern. How long will it [the seniors] last? So they [the younger players] need to obviously step up. They are the ones who will play for the next ten years or something like that. They'll have to mature and take Mumbai's batting forward," Jaffer, the highest run-getter in Ranji Trophy history, said on the eve of Mumbai's crucial group tie against Gujarat.
Jaffer's frustration was understandable as the batting has let the team down time and time again this season. While no Mumbai batsman, including Jaffer, who has scored three centuries in the season, features in the top 20 scorers this season, only two of their batsmen have averaged over 50. One of them is retired, while the other has been away on national duty.
In the absence of Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane - away on national duty - none of the Mumbai middle-order batsmen have managed to cement a place in the side. Hiken Shah, Siddhesh Lad and Suryakumar Yadav have all shown glimpses of talent, but have fallen short on temperament. Aditya Tare hasn't been assured of a role in the side, made to open the innings or bat down the order depending on the team combination. Jaffer, who has been the stand-in captain for the last two games, said the young players needed to learn how to construct an innings.
"They need to understand the phases. When you bat in the first session, you need to bat differently than what you do in the second session. These are the phases that they need to understand and I am sure they will understand since they are working towards it."
Jaffer was optimistic that the younger lot would come good since "they have the talent". "Surya has scored runs, Tare has scored runs, Lad has scored runs, but they have scored in patches. They are trying and they are hardworking, so they will get there."
The failure of the batsmen has been responsible for Mumbai slipping from the top of the table at the midway stage to joint third going into the last league round. As a result, they have their backs to the wall while going into the match against Gujarat at the Sardar Vallabhai Patel Stadium in Valsad. Jaffer was hoping that the batsmen will bail the team out of trouble and avoid a league-stage exit.
"It is not a good situation," Jaffer said. "I have always believed that we should look to qualify with one game remaining. We had 19 points from the first four games, and then in the next three games we only managed to get only four points, which is very bad. From the kind of start we had, we shouldn't have been in this situation, but you need to understand that we are a very inexperienced side.
"[Barring myself], there's hardly anyone experienced. Tare is playing his second season. Maybe Hiken Shah has been around for some time but other than that, there isn't any experienced player in this side. I think we played pretty well in the last game, but we messed it up on the last day. Other than that, the bowlers have done well. Shardul [Thakur] has shown a lot of promise.
"Hopefully, we will qualify and then it becomes a different ball game in the knockouts. [In the] five-day game, hopefully we'll have Zak [Zaheer Khan] back and [the injured Abhishek] Nayar may also be back. Knockouts are a different ball game because Mumbai are more used to playing that than others. But getting there is a priority."
Amol Karhadkar is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo