'When the love goes, your priorities have changed'
Having become the first player to score 10,000 runs in the Ranji Trophy, Wasim Jaffer looks back on his journey with Mumbai, the challenges of domestic cricket, and more
You are part of the exclusive 10,000 club. Not many players have scored that many runs even in international cricket. At what point did you recognise that you could reach this milestone?
It only came to my mind when I broke Amol [Muzumdar]'s record in 2012-13 for the most number of Ranji Trophy runs. Only then it came to my mind that 10,000 was not far away. When you are playing Ranji you are not really aware of the records as the numbers are not that prominently evident.
What all goes into peaking such a big mountain?
I feel happy, very lucky to have survived this long in first-class cricket. To play for this long especially for Mumbai is not an easy achievement. When I entered the Mumbai dressing room the team was full of stars, so having survived and played this long I feel very honoured. To score these many runs you need to play for long. It does not happen in five, seven, eight years. When you play for a state like Mumbai you are always challenged to become better. And that helped me because you need to keep improving your game all the time otherwise there are people waiting to take your place. So it helped me to compete and play alongside some great players in Mumbai and domestic cricket and helped me get better and better.
The joy of playing domestic cricket is unique and not many possibly know it. But that joy is necessary and important, right?
People from outside sometimes get a feeling (playing domestic cricket) is not that hard and it can be very easy especially if you have played at the top level. But if you play first-class cricket continuously for a long time it is not easy: it is mentally very tiring and even physically, too. You need that motivation as well to go out there and play in an atmoshphere where you are not noticed. In international cricket whatever you do or not you get noticed, but at the first-class level, even if you get 700-800 runs every season people (fans) hardly notice that and know that you had a very good season.
That is something which I feel is very important: to progress as a cricketer it is paramount to play first-class cricket. You need to play at least three seasons and prove himself. You are not going to get Sachin Tendulkar every five or 10 years. But every other player needs to play a few seasons of first-class cricket and do well. Nowadays sometimes people get carried away after one or two (good) performances in tournaments like the IPL. They are automatically pushed up very easily to India A or even India without having proved themselves in first-class cricket. Only when they play first-class cricket they realise how hard it is. When you are playing your first season people might know you, but after a while opposition will work you out easily and that is when you need to prove yourself. When you are good you will do well. You need two to three seasons of grind in first-class cricket which would stand you in good stead in international cricket.
As you say it is really challenging to play in front of empty grounds, in the absence of any recognition, so how did you keep that joy alive?
I enjoy batting. When I am batting well, when I am scoring runs the joy is immense and you cannot compare it with anything. That joy is still there, to work hard, to go out and bat well, and when you feel you are batting well to make sure I get 100, 150, 200 runs. That is something which I really enjoy still. When the desire goes to grind and work hard I will give it up. But I am still enjoying playing, enjoying competing. There is no such thing as I am dragging my career. I need to help younger players in Vidarbha, to make a difference in their career based on whatever knowledge I have gained over the last many years.
You have always maintained this I-am-still-good attitude at all times. Has that belief kept you mentally and physically strong?
You need to have belief in your own ability no matter what others are saying about you. But if you think bad about yourself, then there is no point playing. You need to have belief in your ability. You are bound to have ups and downs. You cannot be Sachin Tendulkar who had 24 great seasons. When you are not doing well at international level, you come back to first-class cricket, but you still need to go out and perform. You play the game because you enjoy doing what you do. You don't do that because you only want to play international cricket. But if you can't you still go out there and enjoy what you. That is very important: to keep playing for the love of it and not anything else. When the love goes, your priorities have changed. I feel every cricketer, especially the ones growing up, need to get their priorities right. They should play because they enjoy the sport rather than playing for IPL, the contracts and such. If you are playing well and playing well enough for long you will definitely go where you want to go.
Among the various domestic milestones that you have achieved which are you most proud of?
When I got to know I am the highest run-scorer in Ranji, Duleep Trophy, Irani Trophy and Vijay Hazare, that feat gave me the most joy. Nobody else held such a record in the past or present.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo