The Ranji Bradman

VIVEK BENDRE

After 17 summers, Wasim Jaffer, a few days from turning 35, leads an impressive Ranji Trophy run-scorers’ list with 9155 runs. The elegant opener surpassed former Mumbai team-mate Amol Muzumdar’s tally (9105 runs) in the final against Saurashtra at the Wankhede Stadium. Incidentally, the 32nd hundred that he scored also placed him on top of the century-makers’ group. G. Viswanath takes stock.

Wasim Jaffer gives plenty of pleasure to both the purists and the new generation, which laps up the thrills of Twenty20 cricket. Trained in the traditional way on the maidans of Mumbai and on turf wickets, Jaffer has now become a colossal figure in the blue-riband Ranji Trophy competition.

After 17 summers, Jaffer, a few days from turning 35, leads an impressive Ranji Trophy run-scorers’ list with 9155 runs. He is a conventional opener with an upright stance and a conventional grip of the bat. He plays shots in front of the wicket and square, cuts and pulls and plays the lofted shots with minimum fuss. He is a coach and captain’s delight and more significantly, he brings a terrific calmness to ease the bundle of nerves in the dressing room.

The elegant right-hander surpassed former Mumbai team-mate Amol Muzumdar’s tally (9105 runs) in the final against Saurashtra at the Wankhede Stadium. Incidentally, the 32nd hundred that he scored also placed him on top of the century-makers’ group. He had shared the honour for a brief while with Delhi’s Ajay Sharma.

Jaffer walked out with young Kaustubh Pawar, held fort for almost six hours and made 132 with 16 fours and a six. He left the scene only after his team was ahead by nearly a hundred runs, which was considerable because Saurashtra had been skittled out for 148 in the first innings.

In a sport that is known for its glorious uncertainties Jaffer had the rub of the green in his favour, most times. It took a while for him to realise that he was adjudged leg before to left-arm spinner Dharmendrasinh Jadeja. Jaffer was declared the Man of the Match even as Dhaval Kulkarni staked claims with a powerful performance with the ball, taking four for 24 in the first innings and five for 32 in the second.

Mumbai has benefitted largely from Jaffer’s clinical approach and this is amply reflected in him featuring in eight Ranji Trophy title wins. He had a very ordinary start though in his first Ranji Trophy and first-class match against Gujarat, Dhansukh Patel, a wily medium fast bowler, trapping him leg before for 11. It was a match in which Jaffer opened with Sanjay Manjrekar and saw Amol Muzumdar make an unbeaten 214 at the Wankhede Stadium.

Jaffer did not take long to understand the meaning of a century and the accumulation of runs in first class cricket. He saw four more century-makers in his second match against Saurashtra on a batting paradise at Rajkot’s Race Course ground. Opener Sudhir Tanna made 141 and middle order batsmen Bimal Jadeka 132, Prakash Bhatt 123 and Hitesh Parsana an undefeated 100 as Saurashtra piled up 595 for the loss of four wickets. Then a callow 18-year-old, Jaffer, kept on the field for two full days, went out to bat with Sulakshan Kulkarni (coach of the Mumbai team now). He then spent 13 hours at the crease, faced 501 balls, struck 47 fours and remained unbeaten on 314. Kulkarni made 239 for Mumbai to make 647 for four in the first innings. Jaffer ended his debut season with 692 runs in seven matches and since then has been a constant figure in Mumbai’s chequered journey as other teams began to challenge its supremacy in the national championship.

In comparison with his own high standards, Jaffer has also had poor runs in the course of the 118 matches he has played for Mumbai (Ranji Trophy and other matches). His exceptional years were when he aggregated over 1000 runs in 1999-00, 2002-03, 2005-06, 2008-09 and 2010-11. His 1260 in the 2008-09 Ranji Trophy season (overall was 1549) is only third behind V.V.S. Laxman’s 1415 and Vijay Bharadwaj’s 1280.

There were few good replacements when he dropped himself to the middle order on the rationale that he would never get to open the innings for India in Test matches with Gautam Gambhir establishing permanency as the partner to Virender Sehwag. He took that decision as captain and Mumbai suffered. Jaffer has been capped 31 times in Test matches and has left different sets of national selectors disappointed. Obviously, for the reputation he has built on the basis of his phenomenal run-scoring, he has come short at 1944 runs at 34.10 with five centuries.

It’s been 12 years and more since he played his first Test against South Africa at the Wankhede Stadium. He was sent indoors quickly by Allan Donald and Shaun Pollock for 4 and 6. Everytime he scored heavily in the domestic tournaments he has been rewarded with a call.

He has five Test centuries to his credit; 100 in the second innings against England at Nagpur in 2006, 212 in the second innings against the West Indies at Antigua in June 2006, 116 against South Africa at Cape Town in January 2007, 138 against Bangladesh at Mirpur in May 2007 and 202 against Pakistan at the Eden Gardens in December 2007.

Jaffer seemed to have finally come good, but his inability to face up to Brett Lee in Australia in 2007-08 made the selectors lose confidence in him. He was dismissed by Lee for 4 and 15 at Melbourne, again by Lee for 3 and 0 at Sydney and once again by Lee for 16 in the first innings at Perth and by Stuart Clark for 11 in the second.

Jaffer made 73 while opening with Sehwag (319) in the first Test against South Africa in Chennai in March 2008. But a 9 and 19 at Motera and 15 and 10 at Kanpur simply shut him out of the scene. He still looks like a magician with a bat in his hands. But is he good enough for another chance? It’s a call Sandeep Patil & Co. have to take.