Wasim Jaffer has been an integral part of Vidarbha’s resurgence in the domestic circuit in the last few years. After winning the Ranji Trophy twice in two seasons – 2017-18 and 2018-19 – the side fell short in 2019-20, narrowly failing to qualify for the knockouts. It turned out to be the last first-class season for Jaffer; in March, he announced his retirement from all cricket, bringing curtains on a distinguished career.
In an interaction with Sportstar , Jaffer, who is currently at home, spending time with his family, talks about what went wrong for Vidarbha this time, Saurashtra’s success, India’s lacklustre performance in New Zealand, and more.
Vidarbha couldn’t make the knockouts this time. How do you assess its performance this season?
We didn’t play badly up until that Delhi match (Delhi vs Vidarbha at Arun Jaitley Stadium in January, 2020). That Delhi match was the most crucial one for us, where we had gained the first-innings lead, and then, we declared on the fourth day, hoping to get a result or hoping to get an outright victory. But Delhi came back and chased down a score of 347, which was a commendable effort from them. I think that was probably the turning point for me.
After that, we lost against Gujarat also. It was a very close match.
So, I think those two games I think turned the tables on us. Then, against Kerala, the second-last game, two days we couldn’t get a game because it rained. So, there was no game at all in the third or fourth day. So, the campaign was over for us literally there and then.
Looking back, that game against Delhi was the turning point for us. But I don’t think we played badly. If we had qualified, even as the fourth or the fifth team [the scenario may have been different].
Ganesh Satish scored more than 700 runs this season. What did you make of his performance?
He had an outstanding season, scoring literally in almost every game. He’s one of those guys who keeps doing his job very quietly. He is one of those guys who goes unnoticed, but he’s a consistent performer over the years for Vidarbha and even for Karnataka when he played. And he’s a very sincere guy, he works on his game, he works very hard behind the scenes. No hassles. A very soft-spoken guy, a very cultured boy. So I feel very happy when those guys who put so much effort into doing well.
Saurashtra won the title after long gap. Bengal and Gujarat also did well…
Saurashtra has been one of the consistent teams. If you look back over four [or] five [or] six years, they’ve always been around. They’ve played three finals, I remember both the finals I played against them. They’ve been a very, very consistent team. They’ve always been around. They know how to play and how to get points. Obviously, Jaydev Unadkat plays a very important role for them, and [Cheteshwar] Pujara. But what I like about Pujara and Jaydev is when they play, they put in their 100 percent effort. Especially Pujara, when he comes from his Test duty, he’s fully committed, he always wants Saurashtra to win, it’s something for the youngsters to learn from.
Jaydev has been a star performer for them; he’s their main guy in the bowling attack, even though they’ve got a few guys who can back it up. But there are not many who take five-wicket hauls, especially pace attack. They’ve got spinners, but in the pace attack, he is their go-to man. And he’s delivered. In the last two [or] three years, he’s been very consistent. Even in the last year, he took 40-plus wickets (39); this year, he’s got more than 60 wickets (67). Their batsmen also put in the performances. These guys are also very underrated, but they do their job for their team. Sheldon Jackson is there. But most of the guys go about their job very quietly. Keep churning out their performances. I feel very happy [for them].
I feel very happy for even Bengal. They’ve turned it around; last few seasons, they haven’t performed the way they wanted to. But this year, they surprised everyone. They came very close to winning the Ranji Trophy, and I feel very happy that they’ve got Arun Lal, they’ve got new coaches, new captain.
What do you think caused this turnaround for Bengal? It hadn’t been performing very well in the last few seasons.
They had Sairaj Bahutule as coach last year, and now they’ve got Arun Lal as coach. They might have brought fresh ideas. Manoj Tiwary, he got released from captaincy. They’ve got a new guy, new ideas, even though I think Abhimanyu Easwaran didn’t get the runs he would have liked to, because he’s been one of the most consistent players around in the domestic circuit. He didn't have a very good season as a batsman, but as a captain, he would be happy that his team played well. They went into the final.
Ishan Porel, I think he played a very major role, in the initial time. This time, [when] the Ranji Trophy was played in December, fast bowlers got a lot of help. It was played in a very cold time of the year. He used the conditions to his best; he matured quite a lot if I may say so. And I think the Eden Gardens also helps fast bowlers.
Anustup Majumdar, he played a very crucial role. When I saw him bat, I felt very happy to see him bat, because he looked very comfortable [in the middle]. In the quarterfinals, semifinals, and even in the final, [he scored runs] but I thought he scored runs when it mattered.
When you have those kinds of performances, or those kinds of players who put their hands up at the important stages, that's when the team wins. It's a team game after all; a single player cannot win you a championship.
Coming to Test cricket, India performed poorly in New Zealand earlier this year. Were seaming pitches the main problem or was it all in the mind, as Virat Kohli said?
I wouldn't say that was the main reason but India lost both the tosses at crucial times. I think it was an easy option for any team: win the toss, bowl first and use the condition which they did. When you’ve got bowlers like Tim Southee and Trent Boult, it's always going to be hard on seaming pitches. India was a little bit on the backfoot from the start, having lost both the tosses. Having said that, when you are a World No. 1 side, you should find a way to win. What I felt bad about was winning in India is not a problem for this Indian team; winning in England, winning in South Africa [are tough].
When India go to Australia, it is going to be a very crucial series, with [Steve] Smith and [David] Warner back.
These are the four [countries] where India needs to show its dominance. Somewhere I feel we haven't ticked those boxes. We haven't won in England. We haven't won in South Africa, we haven't won in New Zealand. These guys have been around for six [or] seven years, all of them. They need to focus and focus on winning series in these places.
I feel when Virat Kohli doesn’t score, it affects the team also, to some extent. When he's firing, it gives a lot of confidence to the other batsmen also. So his form also plays a very important role in my mind.
But do you think Indian batsmen struggle more in seaming conditions, maybe not so much in Australia which has more bounce?
You can say that we haven't put in the performances. Even in England, we were very close to winning the series, we didn't chase close to 200 twice. We didn't chase 230 runs in South Africa in the fourth innings. They should counter it better.
Does limited-overs cricket have a role to play in the poor performances by India’s batsmen?
I think so. It's not that easy to change your game straightaway, within a week's time, turning from white-ball cricket to red-ball cricket. It's not that easy, no matter how much you’ve played, you still need a bit of time, you still need a bit of practice. But unfortunately, with the calendar being so tight, it doesn't happen. They play so much white-ball cricket where they have to hit the ball hard, have to play at every ball. And suddenly, within a week's time you're into a desperate state and you’ve lost the toss, you’re batting first in seaming conditions. Even though you know what you have to do, it doesn't happen.
What did you make of India’s bowling?
Those guys bowled when the conditions were good for bowling. We lost the toss and [Tim] Southee, [Trent] Boult and [Kyle] Jamieson, they’ve got the right conditions to bowl, and they used it to the best.
And when the Indians guys came into bowl, the wicked [flattened] and it wasn't that easy and I have to give credit also to New Zealand. Even in the second innings, they found a way to get wickets. When the wicket got a little bit easier, they found a way by bowling short balls or setting the field and bowling according to those fields. I feel they were ahead of us, even in the second innings.
Sport and those associated with sport are currently suffering due to the COVID-19 pandemic. On the one hand, there’s revenue loss due to the prolonged lockdown, and on the other, there’s concern for safety. When do you think cricket should restart?
It all depends on when the pandemic ends. You’d be a fool to start any public gathering or anything until this pandemic ends. We have to wait unfortunately, it is not something we all want but it’s the demand of the hour. When this pandemic ends, that is the best time. Preventing human lives is far more important.
There has been discussion about players being disallowed from using sweat and saliva on the ball, and instead legalise ball tampering. What is your opinion?
You don't want to play cricket like that, do you? This is a team sport. The cricket balls travels from place to place, when you play with intensity, so many things happen. I feel it would unfair on bowlers also, because they need a little bit of help with the help of saliva or sweat; they want the ball to swing. So if you stop that it becomes a very one-dimensional game.
Finally, how are you spending your time during this lockdown?
Just spending time at home like everybody else. I don't get this much time with my kids and my wife, my family, so I’m trying to make the most of it. It came as a blessing in disguise to me. Even the kids are surprised that I'm home so long. I’m trying to make the relationship with them a little bit better. They haven’t seen me a lot; unfortunately, I was always travelling. Away from home, I would come for a week and then out again. So, trying to spend as much time with them and fortunately, Ramzan also falls in this time. So, I'm getting to fast also at home. Everybody else also is fasting, so it has come as a blessing in disguise even though you don't want that to happen. It surprises me how much the ladies work hard in the house. It's surprising how much hard work they do when you're not there. When you're around, you see their efforts and you appreciate that.
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