Wasim Jaffer: 'Vidarbha was never known for playing this way'

As Vidarbha gears up for it’s maiden Ranji Trophy final against Delhi, veteran batsman Wasim Jaffer can’t hide his excitement.

Wasim Jaffer: "It is a privilege to play such a game like the Ranji Trophy final."   -  VIVEK BENDRE

At a time when most of his contemporaries have hung up their boots, Wasim Jaffer is getting ready for yet another Ranji Trophy final, this time for Vidarbha. The 39-year-old, who ruled Mumbai cricket for long, has been one of the major faces of the squad for the last few years.

This time, as the young side gears up for it’s maiden Ranji Trophy final against Delhi, Jaffer can’t hide his excitement.

Speaking to Sportstar from the team hotel in Indore on Tuesday, Jaffer talks about what has worked for Vidarbha this season.

Excerpts…

It has been a dream Ranji Trophy outing for Vidarbha. At a time when not many thought that the young side would go too far in the tournament, the team has actually booked its place in the final. How do you see this?

I am looking forward to the final. I feel we have played some great cricket. People did not expect us to play like this. Vidarbha was never known for playing this way. But the way we have been preparing ourselves, and the way we played so far is (excellent). The quality of players is also outstanding, so this performance does not surprise me. The quality and the depth we have in the side is great. Look at Karn Sharma. Despite being such a quality player, he is not getting a chance in the playing eleven. So you can imagine the quality and the competition we have in the side. Every player has put their hands up at different stages of the tournament. Faiz (Fazal) has had a fantastic season, but even other players have stepped up and performed at various levels.

READ: Captain Fazal ready to do anything for maiden Ranji title

Many in the fraternity believe that Vidarbha’s story is nothing less than a fairytale. What do you think clicked for the side this time around?

The first game of the tournament, where we defeated Punjab in their home, boosted our confidence. We, Vidarbha, have been known for playing well only at home. (Earlier), when we played at home, we would be more confident. Vidarbha was not known for winning away games like it has done this year. That gave the boys a lot of confidence, and beating teams like Bengal and Punjab have given the players a lot of confidence and self-belief.

That has probably changed things and in the past, we have failed twice in the knockout stage. Taking lessons from those experiences, we were quite well prepared this time around. We haven’t stressed too much about performances; it has just been about keeping things simple. Everyone knows their duties. Once we have got the system in place, everyone is just performing their duties really well.

READ: Vidarbha's road to summit clash

In an interview with Sportstar the other day, team captain, Faiz Fazal, had indicated that coach Chandrakant Pandit has been able to imbibe the Khadoos cricketing culture of Mumbai. That, he believed, has helped the team buck up. What are your thoughts on this?

With Chandu (Pandit) being the coach that (being Khadoos) has come. He is a tough task master, and is very strict in his work. That has rubbed on to everyone. In the past, the process was different. If we would go out of Vidarbha and lose, that was accepted because it did not surprise anyone. We were not expected to do well away from home. As soon as we come back to Nagpur, we would press for an outright win. Now, everything has turned around. We have started playing well away from home and also at home. The outright wins in two away games against Punjab and Bengal have given the players a confidence boost.

Chandu does not settle for mediocre performance and he pushes the team to its limits. It’s like that. He took them out of the comfort zone and has made the team realise that they can do it. I personally believe, the boys did not lack quality (earlier), all they lacked was a bit of confidence and self-belief. Once they have the confidence, you can see what they can do. There’s so much quality in the side.

You spoke about quality and depth in the team, but how have you people ensured that the players give their best? Has there been any set process of getting the best out of the side?

We have prepared a lot seriously this time around. The appointment of Chandrakant Pandit as the coach has made the difference. He does not settle for anything other than a good performance. As soon as the players let their guard down a bit, Chandu would ask them to pace up. If he feels that the players are taking it easy or a little slow, he will make sure that the players know that the job is still not done. That attitude from Chandu has made the players realise that they have to give their hundred per cent.

There are players who thought that they would be surely playing the Ranji Trophy this season, but they could not find a place because probably Chandu felt that they were lacking something. So, with him around, everyone is on their toes. Unless you maintain your performance and work ethic and attitude, you might be dropped. That has probably made the boys work hard and has made them think that they have to be the best.

Bringing that culture, I think, was very important. You might score a century or take a few wickets—but all that won’t matter if your team loses. You have to perform to make sure that team wins.

But then, Ranji Trophy final is always a different ball game. What would the team do to remain cool and composed?

You have to relax because once you start thinking that it’s a big game, then the pressure will be on you. So, you need to take that pressure off and no matter what you do, the fact that it is a Ranji Trophy final, runs at the back of your mind, but you don’t need to take that pressure. Just play like it's any another game.

When you meet the team members for a pep talk ahead of the final, what would you be telling the boys?

It is a privilege to play such a game like the Ranji Trophy final. There are so many cricketers, who in their entire life, can’t play a game like this. So, the boys should be thankful enough and should just enjoy the moment. The youngsters should not be putting too much pressure on themselves. There are so many big players who did not play a Ranji final in their career, so you got to feel privileged and enjoy that moment. Be relaxed and try and bring the best out of you—that should be the aim.

It has often been seen that most of the teams tend to fade out after a meteoric rise. For Vidarbha, what should the strategy of survival be for the next few seasons?

I think the performance will probably remain the same, primarily because apart from me this team is very young. I am the oldest member of the side, but most of the guys are either in mid-twenties or are in late-twenties, so they will be playing for four-five seasons at least. With Chandu around, he will always make sure that the players don’t get excited or get carried away. He doesn’t like to lose, so he will obviously make sure that this kind of performances is repeated. The same bunch of players would play for at least three-four year. They have done this year, so why can’t they do it for next three-four year?

Where do you see yourself in that set-up?

I have really enjoyed playing this season. This is primarily because we have played well and I have helped a few, who have been doing well. Coming from Mumbai, it is good to see these youngsters do well and beating some good sides—this makes me very happy. And you enjoy playing in a team which is winning.

Hopefully, it would go on in the same way next year. It is important for me to stay fit and motivated. If I am injury-free and if there is motivation, I will go for another season. For me, the motivation is still there, though I would have loved to score another 200-300 runs more. But I have already got 500 runs, and most importantly, have got good starts in most of the games. It’s just that I have not been able to convert those starts. If I am fit, then I see no reason why I can’t play next season? I have enjoyed thoroughly.