Wasim Jaffer: King of domestic cricket

That Wasim Jaffer became the first batsman to cross the 10,000-run mark in Ranji Trophy, in the ongoing 2015-16 season, may have actually come as a surprise. But the fact that he has done it in nearly two decades of first-class cricket only mirrors a particular goal he probably set for himself after crossing the 9000-run mark and his strong appetite for scoring runs.

Wasim Jaffer played almost all the strokes executed by batsmen successful at all levels of the game.   -  VIVEK BENDRE

Vidarbha's Wasim Jaffer (right) celebrates with team-mate Faiz Yakub Fazal after scoring 10,000 runs in Ranji Trophy in Kolkata.   -  PTI

Talking of the old-fashioned Bombay school of cricket, which is still in vogue, one will find that the Anjuman Islam Urdu School, Mumbai, West Zone and Wasim Jaffer fit the bill perfectly. Upright in his stance — reflecting in ample measure that he was put through the paces and the wringer the proper way by hardened local coaches, who strictly went by the book on matters such as grip, head position, use of the depth of the crease, back-lift and all that — Jaffer presented himself as a classical right-hander, who liked to play the front-foot drive.

Jaffer played almost all the strokes executed by batsmen successful at all levels of the game. He timed the ball so well, which straightaway suggested the excellent wrist-work he brought into play. He did not appear to want to bludgeon the ball like the Prince of Najafgarh, Virender Sehwag, but gave the impression of one keen to deal with the ball warmly by caressing it to the picket. He has lifted the ball for many sixes, though. When you add the elegance element to his style of playing, Jaffer stands out from the rest.

That he became the first batsman to cross the 10,000-run mark in Ranji Trophy, in the ongoing 2015-16 season, may have actually come as a surprise. But the fact that he has done it in nearly two decades of first-class cricket only mirrors a particular goal Jaffer probably set for himself after crossing the 9000-run mark and his strong appetite for scoring runs. What a touch of irony that he accomplished the feat not while representing Mumbai, for whom he had a distinguished career, but playing for Vidarbha as a professional against Bengal at the Jadavpur University Campus in Kolkata!

Jaffer, who plays for Himley in the Birmingham and District Premier League Division one, was modest on getting to the landmark: “I always had the passion in me to play cricket. It’s never easy to play for so many years. I always had the belief in myself. It’s the passion that keeps me going. It’s not just about scoring runs; the more important challenge is how you can get better every day. I took it up as a challenge.”

Raised on the famous maidans and turf wickets of Mumbai, from school to first-class competitions, Jaffer literally started with a bang, amassing 314 runs against Saurashtra on a flat deck at the Race Course Ground in Rajkot. This was only his second innings in Ranji Trophy (also a first-class match) and the ‘Bombay cricketers’ spontaneously gave the approving nod, celebrating the arrival of a batsman who had the wherewithal to compete with the best in the world. He turned out to be Mumbai’s backbone for 19 years.

Jaffer played 31 Tests and made 1944 runs with five centuries that included two double-centuries, against the West Indies (212 at St. John’s, Antigua, in June 2006) and Pakistan (202 in Kolkata, in November 2007). However, somewhere along the line, bowlers found flaws in his technique — despite playing straight — that ended his Test career in 2008.

Perhaps India coach John Wright felt that Jaffer did not show a big heart and stomach for a fight on the tour of England in 2002. He made 1 and 53 in the Lord’s Test, the half-century winning him a place in the second Test at Trent Bridge, where he scored 0 and 5. This saw him out of the Indian team for three and a half years. Thereafter, the selectors gave him a long run, but just two half-centuries following his double-century against Pakistan, and a particularly dismal run in the 2008 home series against South Africa — in which he made 73, 9, 19, 15 and 10 — brought a halt to his Test career.

Jaffer is the leading scorer in the Ranji Trophy with 35 centuries and 41 half-centuries in 126 matches (196 innings). Behind him are Amol Muzumdar (9202, retired), Mithun Manhas (8345) and Hrishikesh Kanitkar (8059, retired).

Milind Rege, chairman of the Mumbai Cricket Association selection committee and a fan of Jaffer’s batting, paid the most appropriate tribute to the batsman: “I am not surprised by his feat of 10,000-plus runs in Ranji Trophy. His work ethic has been fantastic, I have never seen him messing around and not batting correctly in the nets ever since he was a kid. Jaffer has to be the ultimate Mr. Domestic; he should have played more matches for India.”