Early in the morning session on the final day of the Ranji Trophy semi-final, Karnataka needed 18 runs to deny Vidarbha their maiden appearance in the final; Vidarbha needed two wickets. At the drinks break, Wasim Jaffer, one of the three professionals in the Vidarbha squad and the team's senior-most player, spoke to the team in the huddle.

"I still believed things could change," Jaffer recounts. "I told them if they need to score 18 runs, we need to make sure they at least play 30-35 balls. They are not going to get those runs in four or five deliveries. And we need to bowl just two good balls, which is quite possible. Luckily for us, that is what happened. [Abhimanyu] Mithun played a bad shot and [S] Aravind was the last man caught. They [Vidarbha] have realised now that things can happen."

It was the second time in three days Jaffer had issued a stern but inspiring message to his team-mates. At the end of the second day, after Karnataka had taken the first-innings lead, the Vidarbha dressing room was a dejected unit. Players were quiet and sulking.

"Our morale was down on the second evening after Karnataka had taken the lead," Vidarbha allrounder Aditya Sarwate says. Sarwate was Vidarbha's best batsman in their underwhelming first-innings total of 185, scoring 47 runs. Jaffer noticed that most of the Vidarbha players had started to mentally concede their dream run was coming to an end.

"They are all very good cricketers, but sometimes they lack the confidence and belief in themselves, some of them at least. And my job as a professional or mentor is to get them to play to their optimum."

Jaffer, the man with most Ranji runs and with multiple Ranji titles, decided it was time to transform the sombre mood in the dressing room. "When Karnataka were ahead, I could see within the group few players had started to talk about our season might be over," Jaffer tells ESPNcricinfo. "Negative thoughts were creeping in. I told them there were still 270 overs of cricket left in the final three days in the match. And if we could post about target of 250 in [bowler-friendly] conditions, anything could happen.

"I told them it doesn't matter even if we lose, as long as we show a good attitude and good approach. When Vidarbha plays Karnataka, Karnataka is expected to do well. Unless we put up a fight, it will be a tough three days. If we don't fight and just give up now, it is going to be a big drag for the final three days as Karnataka would make us toil. If we show the right approach and attitude and put up a fight anything can happen."

According to Sarwate, Jaffer recounted the 2010 Ranji final between Mumbai and Karnataka in Mysore, where Ajit Agarkar led Mumbai's fightback in a thrilling contest. "He stressed that belief should not be lost at any point in a match. He stressed that in a five-day game, what happens in the first innings is not that significant. He said Mumbai had never lost the belief in Mysore and won a crunch match in the end."

Jaffer's inspiring speeches served the purpose. Vidarbha held their nerve and Rajneesh Gurbani's seven-for in the second innings steered the side to their maiden Ranji Trophy final. "I was pumped up. The rest of the team was also inspired by his words. And we made an outstanding comeback," Sarwate says.


As a professional, it is Jaffer's job to help the youngsters in the team become better players. When he decided to move out of Mumbai because he did not want to deny a capable young batsman a spot, he shortlisted Vidarbha as one of the few teams where he could head. He made the move to Vidarbha as a professional in the 2015-16 season and now wants to retire with the team. Jaffer finds immense satisfaction when he sees players taking note of his advice on transforming themselves.

When Sarwate met Jaffer for the first time properly (at the start of the 2016 domestic season) he told the senior pro that he had started his career as a batsman before focusing on left-arm spin, which now is his primary trade. Jaffer saved that information.

In Vidarbha's fourth match of this season, against Bengal, the team's coach Chandrakant Pandit was unsure of playing Sarwate. Jaffer was insistent that Pandit, his former Mumbai coach, play the 28-year-old allrounder. "He had played 10 to 11 matches before this season and picked 50-plus wickets, and he was not finding a place," Jaffer says. "I convinced Chandu [Pandit] to play [Sarwate] against Bengal because I knew what he could bring to the table as an allrounder. He is a good left-arm spinner who can bat. Against good teams you need good players."

Sarwate scored 89 in the first innings and picked five wickets in the match. "You need to show players the right path, and if they pick the tips you share and become better players, that is what gives me satisfaction," Jaffer adds.

Jaffer had asked Sarwate to not take his batting for granted if he wanted to grow as a player, and the allrounder credits Jaffer for the technical adjustments in the pre-season this year. Sarwate would move in quickly to play the ball, and against an incoming delivery such a trigger movement was proving to be a problem. Jaffer asked him to move later in his trigger movements and that has helped Sarwate be more comfortable at the crease.

Against Karnataka, Vidarbha's top order, including Jaffer, had collapsed quickly. Sarwate followed Jaffer's suggestions - he stayed calm, moved late against the ball that R Vinay Kumar and the seamers were swinging both ways. "I was watching the ball till the last moment and waited for the delivery which allowed me to stay focused." Sarwate got 47, the highest in Vidarbha's first innings and then scored a crucial half-century in the second innings.

Sarwate says Jaffer is always looking to make people around him comfortable. Before Jaffer, S Badrinath had been a professional with Vidarbha and was more of an "introverted personality". Jaffer, on the other hand, mingles with the rest of the players, cracks jokes and is open. According to Sarwate, Badrinath was a hard-working player, who focused on work ethics and discipline and then retreated to his room. Jaffer meanwhile is light in his disposition. "He is very calm and strong-minded regardless of the pressure. He sticks to his game plan and does not distract himself. I like that about him a lot," Sarwate says.


Jaffer did not have a good first season with Vidarbha, even though the team qualified for the quarter-finals. His disappointment was more personal: a failure to match the expectations he had set for himself. This season, he has got starts, but only one century. Jaffer reckons he could have easily scored "at least 200 to 300 runs more" than the 500 he currently has from 11 innings.

But, as a professional, Jaffer's job is not just to score runs. The Vidarbha Cricket Association (VCA) want him to mentor and guide the young players at all times and make them understand and learn things on the run.

"They are all very good cricketers, but sometimes they lack the confidence and belief in themselves, some of them at least. And my job as a professional or mentor is to get them to play to their optimum."

Jaffer says there are three-four players from Vidarbha who are part of IPL teams, and three young cricketers who were recently part of the Under-19 Asia Cup squad. "Sometimes we need to push them to realise their potential. They are very down-to-earth and sometimes they don't push themselves very hard, I feel. So that is our job - mine and Chandu's to push them."

In the last league match, against Himachal Pradesh, played at home in Nagpur, Jaffer noticed Gurbani was struggling with his rhythm. "We won the toss and decided to bowl because it was a seamer-friendly wicket. I remember Gurbani started really badly - his body language and his approach was very lethargic. When you win the toss and bowl, you expect your fast bowlers to run in and make life difficult for the batsmen. The wicket was such where it shouldn't be that easy. And he came in and bowled two very ordinary overs."

Jaffer, usually a phlegmatic guy on field, "ran down" to the bowler and asked him to "pull up his socks otherwise it won't be good for him". He made it a point to ask Gurbani to improve his body language as well, telling him not to put his head down when things were not going his way. "The bowler always has this advantage that he has a chance to come back. The batsman can be at his best of his powers but one bad ball and one lapse of concentration and his match is gone. That is what I told Gurbani: he could not make his captain look like a fool."

Gurbani made the corrections and bowled a tidy line for the rest of the match and even took six wickets in the first innings in the drawn game. Gurbani, the side's best fast bowler this season, acknowledges Jaffer's role in his success. "Many might think Wasim Jaffer's role is to only help batsmen. Even I used to think that - what will I ask him for bowling tips," Gurbani says.

"I had not played last year but Vidarbha still paid me all my dues, so it would be fair on me to return that favour this season"

Against Bengal, on a pitch supporting movement, Gurbani was swinging the ball both ways. Jaffer asked him to "hide" the ball. Prior to that, the youngster would hide the ball when he got it to reverse-swing. Jaffer, however, wanted him to create doubt in the batsman's mind even with conventional swing. "He would tell me to subtly hide the ball while running in, hold the ball in the left hand and cover it, not show the seam position. I used to do the same to him in the nets and he faced trouble. It was one of the main tips he offered."

Gurbani has 31 wickets this season and credited Jaffer for at least a dozen of those. "I will give him credit for 12 wickets at least. He would ask me to bowl outswing, at times inswing, at times a bouncer. He has taught me when to bowl which delivery at the right time and that has only helped me grow as a bowler. He also sets fields for me, which, at times I would never think on my own. If there is a left-handed batsman who likes to cut, he would place two gullies and a slip when my plan would be to have just two slips and one gully. Considering he has seen many batsmen across teams, he understands their weak points, and that way helps me set up a plan."

Standing in the slips, Jaffer would watch the feet movement of the batsman and guide Gurbani. "Against Kerala, in the quarter-final, he asked once to bowl an inswinger and on another occasion an inswinger and then a bouncer, which fetched him easy wickets during the match," Gurbani says. "The last ball of the semis, which I got [Aravind, caught behind], was actually due to Wasim bhai. He asked me to keep the ball full and swing it away. Aravind was the last man and it was my first ball to him."


Another player who has been heavily influenced by Jaffer's guidance is Sanjay Ramaswamy, the second-best batsman for the side this season after his captain and opening partner Faiz Fazal. Ramaswamy is the fifth-highest run-maker this season with 735 runs, including three centuries. According to Jaffer, Ramaswamy was an "aloof" player, who would not mingle with the rest of the group. Technically, too, he was not sound, struggling with feet movement which was getting him into a "bad position." Both Pandit and Jaffer spoke to him bluntly.

"The way he was moving before the ball was bowled, he was getting himself into a very bad position. And he would not listen. He felt that is the only way he could play," Jaffer recounts. Pandit and Jaffer spent "quite a few hours" with Ramaswamy at one practice session before this season and recorded a video to make some technical corrections. "His bat was opening a little bit too much, which was making the balls go to gully or point. I just told him to correct his grip, which would help him to play more in front of the wicket."

Jaffer points out after that practice session Ramaswamy realised his mistake. "Till then he was within his own bubble. He won't go to anyone and speak about his game. I told him if he wants to play at the higher levels, he needs to keep his mind open. I told him greats like Sachin Tendulkar or Sunil Gavaskar achieved so much, but even now they are very keen to learn things. You need to have an open mind to become a better player. You just can't shut out suggestions."

After that session Ramaswamy started opening up, and would approach Jaffer and Pandit and ask questions. "It makes it worthwhile to see him score runs against good teams."

Ramaswamy, Sarwate, Gurbani now know what belief can do. Pandit and Jaffer learned, practised, mastered the art of winning at all costs during their Mumbai years. Now they are passing some of those learnings to Vidarbha.

On Friday, Jaffer will play his ninth Ranji final. On all eight previous occasions, all with Mumbai, Jaffer walked out with the winner's medal. Delhi, their opponents in the deciding game, are no pushovers. They are as hungry and as desperate to clinch the title. Jaffer's key message to his team-mates ahead of the final is to enjoy it, to savour the occasion of playing the final, a moment that so many cricketers have not experienced. "I want them to try and think like a winner because nobody really remembers the finalist. So we need to think about the winning the game and all of us need to just believe we can win and go out there thinking only that."


At the outset of this season Jaffer sent an e-mail to the VCA, telling the association's bosses that he would like to play for Vidarbha again but did not want them to pay him the contract fee. Last year Jaffer was injured during the Ranji season, but the VCA still paid him the contract amount as a professional. Jaffer had worked hard to recuperate in time for the domestic ODIs, but the team management did not pick him.

Jaffer says he was "irritated" that the selectors shunned him. But he did not take it negatively. He agrees he had a point to prove this year. "I had not played last year but they still paid me all my dues, so it would be fair on me to return that favour this season," Jaffer says.

Regardless of the result in the final, Jaffer has been a true professional: performing, inspiring, cajoling and leading Vidarbha's players to the next level.

Nagraj Gollapudi is a senior assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo