Jaffer still shines after all these years
On Sunday evening, Wasim Jaffer spent the hour-long flight from Mumbai to Rajkot immersed in a red-spined book. The take-off had been delayed by close to half an hour, but Jaffer sat in his aisle seat quietly stroking his long flowing beard as he turned the pages of the book.
Perhaps it was the lean patch he is going through - he has not scored a half-century in four matches this season - that prompted him to read ESPN's Legends of Cricket - Profiles of the 25 Greatest. Reading about some of his favourite batsmen like Garfield Sobers, Vivian Richards, Barry Richards, Greg Chappell and Sachin Tendulkar, Jaffer might have wanted to make sure he did not get distracted by his inability to convert starts into big scores, something that has been second nature for him over his fifteen-year-long career.
In his five innings so far this season, Jaffer has a tally of 104 runs; only once since his Ranji debut in 1995 has Jaffer gone four matches without making a half-century - at the end of the 2009-10 season. Ajinkya Rahane was in full flow then and some smart bowling by Ajit Agarkar and Dhawal Kulkarni ensured Mumbai were champions that year. This time Rahane and Rohit Sharma are on national duty and though Abhishek Nayar has made two centuries, including a double, and a 91 at No.3, Mumbai need Jaffer to score runs.
"In my whole career I have only seen only two to or three players like him," Shitanshu Kotak, one of the longest surviving first-class cricketers in India who plays for Saurashtra, says. "The class he has, the elegance is remarkable."
Kotak, who made his debut in 1992, has played against Jaffer at all levels in domestic cricket. According to Kotak, whose eyes sparkle as he describes Jaffer's talent, the Mumbai skipper's penchant for converting starts and dominating opponents is an example all his team-mates could follow.
"For a big team like Mumbai he walks alone with so much pressure," Kotak says. "If Wasim is out then the opposition feels [only] half of the Mumbai team is back in the dressing-room. If [Abhishek] Nayar makes 200 runs we would not be afraid. But if Wasim stays for even fifteen minutes then the opposition is under pressure. That is the difference. That is consistency.
"You can't compare a player who has been performing for fifteen years with someone who has been scoring only recently. Let him [Nayar] score over the next two years consistently then you can compare him with Wasim. Mumbai has not had a batsman like Wasim for a long, long time."
It is not only his own team-mates whom Jaffer is head and shoulders above, Kotak says, but he stands tallest even among players who have played domestic cricket for more than a decade. "There have been a few players who have played for long time in first-class cricket but you can easily single out Jaffer. I have seen him at all levels including company cricket in Mumbai and he can win you a match single-handedly against all kinds of bowling attacks."
Jaffer believes he is going through a phase where he is down psychologically. "Even if you have played for ten seasons or more, when you are not scoring runs, it is the question of confidence," he says. But now we are almost in the knockouts and I need to start getting some runs before that."
Despite stuttering personally, Jaffer is happy that the younger players like Nayar and Suryakumar Yadav have made sure Mumbai have not been waylaid. A powerful player in the mould of a MS Dhoni, Yadav started this season with two fifties in the first two rounds before smashing an aggressive 200 that included 28 fours, to set up Mumbai's victory.
In his youth, Jaffer would never have played the way Yadav did. His approach has been that of a marathon runner rather than a sprinter. Tomorrow Jaffer will play his 199th first-class match, an unprecedented feat. Mumbai's opponent is Saurashtra, against whom Jaffer has scored two triple centuries. He is also just a couple of hundred runs short of becoming the highest run-maker ever in Ranji Trophy. History beckons. Yet Jaffer is not getting carried away. He says: "For me it is more about getting into rhythm."
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo