Domestic cricket giant Wasim Jaffer, the former India, Mumbai and Vidarbha opener, has retired at the age of 42. Jaffer made his first-class debut in 1996-97 season to play domestic cricket for over 20 years and finished as the most-capped player in the Ranji Trophy.
His rich legacy of Ranji Trophy records includes the most caps (156), the most runs (12,038), the most centuries (40), the most catches (200), along with being the highest run-scorer in the Duleep Trophy (2545) and the Irani Cup (1294). He was also the only batsman to have breached the 1000-runs per Ranji season twice, in 2008-09 and 2018-19).
Jaffer also played 31 Tests and two ODIs for India. He finished as the fifth-highest run-scorer in Indian first-class cricket along with 10 Ranji Trophy titles and numerous other records.
Despite having played his last Test in 2008, against South Africa in Kanpur, Jaffer, a technically sound right-hand batsman, brought the same passion to the domestic circuit with which he played at the international level. Virtually every domestic season, Jaffer held some sort of record and soon he established himself as a stalwart.
Even in Tests, Jaffer left a strong impression as he opened against some of the best bowling attacks around the world. His 116 in Cape Town is the only instance of an India opener scoring a century in South Africa; Jaffer is also part of a small set of Indian Test openers to have recorded multiple double-centuries: he scored 212 against West Indies in Antigua in 2006 and then two years later came his 202 against Pakistan in Kolkata.
Those two knocks meant Jaffer is only one of five Indians - Virender Sehwag (six), Sunil Gavaskar (three), Mayank Agarwal, Vinoo Mankad the others - to achieve that feat. At the beginning of the 2019-20 Ranji season, Jaffer needed 853 runs to reach 20,000 first-class runs. However, he finished with 19,410 runs, which meant he is now fifth in the all-time list of highest run-scorers in Indian first-class cricket behind Gavaskar (25,834), Sachin Tendulkar (25,396), Rahul Dravid (23,794) and VVS Laxman (19,730).
'There was not much to play for'
At the outset of this season, Jaffer was aware of the record and was further motivated by the challenge of Vidarbha achieving the treble: winning three successive Ranji titles. But a recurring injury to his left knee bothered him throughout the season eventually forcing him to call stumps on his career.
Known for his insatiable appetite for big runs, Jaffer failed to get a century in seven matches this Ranji season for Vidarbha. "I decided actually midway through the season because I was getting a lot of trouble with my knee," Jaffer told ESPNcricinfo. "I was actually not enjoying a long time in the field because of my knee pain. I had problems with my knee for long but this time it was troubling me more. But there was not much to play for, to be honest. I only played this season because this was the hat-trick year for Vidarbha. Me and Chandrakant Pandit (Vidarbha coach) actually thought to get to the hattrick if possible, let's try for that. Once the season finished and I thought this it So I thought, you know, my time under the sun is over, so let's move on."
Jaffer agreed it was a very difficult decision to arrive at after having played for nearly 25 years. "I was fortunate enough to have played this long. The passion to just play more than anything even though I was dropped from the Indian side, but the passion to just play, to get better, improve my batting (kept me going). Even though a lot of people actually give up when they don't play for India, but I had the passion and I enjoyed playing. I even enjoyed playing in Ranji Trophy and helping the youngsters and that kept me going."
"One moment just in cricket is obviously getting the India cap. My father, my brother, my family, and I, we work so hard. Coming from such humble background and then getting to play for India, getting the Test cap, you work so hard for that moment. And there are not many cricketers in India that have been able to achieve that, so I feel I was fortunate enough to get that Test cap. That will always remain special no matter what."
'Winning Ranji Trophy against Karnataka as captain was one of the best'
Jaffer won the Ranji Trophy eight times for Mumbai including twice as captain, followed by two more Ranji titles for Vidarbha where he had moved as professional from 2015-16 season. Which crown was the most memorable?
Jaffer readily said the 106-run victory against hosts Karnataka in Mysore the 2010 Ranji Trophy which hung in balance till the very last minute was the one. Jaffer lifted the trophy for Mumbai though he had single-digit contributions with the bat in both innings. "Winning that Ranji Trophy final by five (six) runs against Karnataka when I was captain, that was probably one of the best finals that I played." At Vidarbha, Jaffer joined ranks with is former Mumbai captain and coach Pandit. He was hired as a mentor and Jaffer instilled the winners' mentality at Vidarbha, who won their first Ranji Trophy in their maiden final, against Delhi, in the 2017-18 season. Jaffer counted that title as a special one, too.
"That was a rollercoaster ride, I don't think anybody, including myself, thought Vidarbha would win the Ranji Trophy. They never had played semi-final before. When I moved to Vidarbha I never thought I did get a chance to play another Ranji title. And (then) we went on to win Ranji and Irani twice. The first season created history for Vidarbha."
He once said: "I don't know anything other than playing cricket." He will be in close touch with the sport even after his retirement: he has been hired as the assistant coach at Kings XI Punjab in the IPL where former India captain Anil Kumble is the team director and head coach.
Even as he looks forward to honing the techniques and mindsets of the players half his age, Jaffer will look back at his proud achievements with a smile. "Getting a double hundred in West Indies, getting a double hundred against Pakistan in a Test match, getting a hundred against South Africa in South Africa, I think no Indian opener has achieved that (in Tests). So that is always going to remain special."
Stats inputs from Hemant Brar
Nagraj Gollapudi is news editor at ESPNcricinfo