Wasim Jaffer - Batting behemoth!

“I feel the best way to produce good cricketers is by making them play on sporting pitches. This year, of the nine matches we played in the Ranji Trophy, at least seven — if not eight — were sporting tracks,” Wasim Jaffer said.

Age sits lightly on Wasim Jaffer. The veteran batsman has turned 40.   -  V. V. SUBRAHMANYAM

Day Two of the Irani Cup. Wasim Jaffer, all of 40 years old, was on a run-scoring spree. He had crossed 150 and was cruising towards what would be a memorable double hundred. Suddenly, after he took a single, there was a loud cheer from the Vidarbha change room. The Rest of India fielders, including some of the most promising youngsters in India’s domestic arena, were wondering what it was and were stunned to be informed that Jaffer had crossed the 18,000-run mark in first-class cricket.

One of the youngsters from the slip cordon asked Jaffer, “How can you score so many runs?”

Jaffer, calm as ever, just responded with a smile and offered the youngster a piece of advice in a hush-hush tone before taking guard to face the next delivery. Not only did he score a double hundred but narrowly missed out on a historic third triple hundred during his 617-minute marathon knock.

The veteran batsman sat down for a chat with Sportstar about his hunger for runs and the lack of it amongst youngsters.

Where do you get this hunger from?

Jaffer is from the old school of batting. The motto is to grind the opposition and not yield one’s wicket easily.   -  VIVEK BENDRE

  I still enjoy playing cricket. That is the most important thing. That motivation hasn’t diminished. In the last four seasons, I have missed two due to injuries.

I missed the whole of last season since I was going through a prolonged rehab for my knee injury and I was very eager to get back.

And like I have been saying all along, the only thing I know in life is to play cricket, so I don’t want to give up on it so easily. Unless something untoward happens — God forbid it doesn’t happen — I’d like to continue as long as the love to bat and fitness are there.

I know I don’t have many seasons left but this kind of season ignites your passion more. We won the Ranji Trophy, we won the Irani Cup which doesn’t happen often. This kind of happiness you don’t get anywhere else. To score runs and to come out playing like this gives me a lot of happiness.

Earlier, were you thinking about calling it a day after this match?

No, not really. When I left Mumbai, I wanted to join a team where I would have a role to play by adding value to the side. I was looking at how I could help out the youngsters and develop their cricket, so I wanted to go into that kind of a set-up.

I didn’t want to join a set-up where I would get the price that I wanted, but after I scored my runs, the team wouldn’t be going anywhere. If the team kept failing, I would always be under pressure. I didn’t want that sort of a scenario. I wanted to enjoy myself and add value to the team.

Picking a team from that perspective was a tough call and looking back, I think I made the right decision. Obviously, Chandu coming in this year has also helped. He has changed things around. The performances we put in have been very satisfactory.

Were you the calming factor for the local players in view of Pandit’s at times aggressive methods or a catalyst?

Jaffer with old Mumbai acquaintance Chandrakant Pandit (left) and Vidarbha captain Faiz Fazal. Jaffer’s presence in Vidarbha became more meaningful after the arrival of Pandit as the coach.   -  VIVEK BENDRE

  Yes, I think so. A lot of players used to be scared to walk up to him so I would be the middle-man most of the times. And then, when things got heated, I was the one they came to, and I would go up to Chandu and calm him down. Even in that respect, I think I played a part in the team’s success on and off the field.

Happy to have scored a double-hundred after almost a decade or are you disappointed to have missed out on what would have been a historic triple?

Nothing to be disappointed about. First of all, I am extremely happy to have scored 286. Like you said, the last double hundred I scored was way back in 2009, so I should be happy to have been able to repeat it.

Even during the Ranji season, I thought I should have scored two or three hundreds and scored many more runs than I got because virtually every innings I got a start and somehow got into the 40s and 50s. It all came together in this innings.

Luckily we won the toss and we put up such a huge score. When you are playing against the Rest of India side, you have to put your best forward and we could do that. I am happy that I could play a part. In fact, even during the team meeting on the eve of the match, I said that this was a kind of a pitch where if you get in, you should look beyond your personal score and bat on and on for the team. Thankfully, I managed to achieve that. I feel happy to have practised what I preached.

A majority of the youngsters fail to dig deep nowadays, right? What would you attribute it to?

Obviously, I come from a very old school of batting, you see. I don’t give up my wicket easily.

Now the game has changed. I don’t blame them. They have been brought up in this culture. They score runs very quickly. They take a lot more risks.

I was taught in a different way, wherein time spent at the pitch mattered more. That’s still in my blood, so once I get in, I don’t give my wicket away so easily. That’s why I could score so many runs.

But it’s unfair to expect the same of this generation. They play a different brand of cricket. They score quickly and can upset a bowler’s rhythm very quickly. But I am sure they will learn to strike the balance between changing gears and not throwing the wicket away. With experience, they will learn.

How has domestic cricket changed over the last two decades?

The quality of cricket has improved without a doubt. We have seen many changes in terms of on and off the field aspects. Scoring rates have improved, keeping with the global trend. The fast bowling has improved.

I would say the only thing that has diminished is spin bowling. Because of the IPL, because of the way cricket is being played, not many bowlers are flighting the ball. When you flight the ball now, the batsmen hit you out of the ground. With the invasion of T20, batsmen are confident of even clearing the fielder on the boundary rope. That fear has gone out of batting.

All in all, change happens for the good. It’s a reflection of the times we live in, I guess. Our generation was very patient whereas the current lot is impatient in virtually every walk of life. It reflects in their cricket. Changes are bound to happen, we have to accept it.

Youngsters respect Jaffer because he is still a top-flight performer. Recently he cracked 286 for Vidarbha against the Rest of India.   -  VIVEK BENDRE

What are the areas that can be improved in the domestic circuit?

I think this year I was quite happy with the way the Ranji Trophy was conducted. The pitches were far better. I think the neutral curators’ concept has really worked.

The wickets we played on, most of them were sporting. I feel the best way to produce good cricketers is by making them play on sporting pitches. This year, of the nine matches we played in the Ranji Trophy, at least seven — if not eight — were sporting tracks. I think that’s the way to go. That is all that the BCCI can do.

From that perspective, to have a real flat deck for a match as big as the Irani Cup is a bad advertisement for domestic cricket?

I think so. You would like to see a five-day game go on to the second innings. Any pitch where the result is decided on the toss is a bad wicket, I would say. I mean even if we had lost the toss, they would have posted a big score.

In general, you need to play on sporting tracks where everybody is in the game at different phases. On the first day, the fast bowlers are in the game, then batsmanship comes into play and then the spinners need to play a part. That’s how an ideal pitch should be.