Mumbai’s history makes it special: Jaffer
39-time Ranji Trophy champions, Mumbai’s history is steeped in the craft of batting. The former champions have produced some of the legends of batting like, Vijay Merchant, Vinoo Mankad, Polly Umrigar, Sunil Gavaskar and Sachin Tendulkar. Former Mumbai captain, Wasim Jaffer, who led the team to their 38th and 39th Ranji Trophy titles, is also a part of Mumbai’s fabled batting legacy.
With over 100 Ranji Trophy matches under his belt, the senior batsman has closely watched the journey of Mumbai cricket for over 15 years and evolved with it. A young defensive cricketer who had scored an unbeaten 314 in just his second game of the premier tournament in 1996 against Saurashtra, Jaffer is now the second highest run-getter in the Ranji Trophy. The senior batsman had surpassed his former Mumbai teammate and captain Amol Muzumdar last season to become the leading run-maker in the history of the tournament. However, he was overtaken by Muzumdar again this season as Jaffer was away for the first few games of the season.
While speaking to bcci.tv, Jaffer reflected on Mumbai cricket and its batting legacy and youngsters like Ajinkya Rahane who are poised to carry the baton forward.
Excerpts from his interview:
What is different about Mumbai cricket? Is it about the opportunity that you get to play competitive cricket day in and day out?
I think that it has to do more with the history, the amount of time Mumbai has dominated Indian cricket. There was stage when they said, if the Mumbai team is strong, then the Indian team is strong and out of 77-odd years Mumbai has won 39 times; that goes on to show how much Mumbai has dominated first-class cricket. Even though we have not won for the last two years, still, in the last ten years we have won five times, so you can’t say that we are out of the picture. But I feel overall the teams have improved with the National Cricket Academy and the game has gone to the other states also. Players from all the states are coming and playing for India, but still I feel Mumbai with the huge amount of history makes it more special. We play the Kanga League, we play different odd tournaments, which doesn’t happen in so many different states. The club cricket and the school cricket are very competitive in Mumbai, so when a player arrives in first-class cricket, he knows what is expected out of him.
What would you attribute Mumbai’s success to when it comes to producing great batsmen?
We have been blessed with great batsmen right from the start; from Vijay Merchant to Vinoo Mankad or Polly Umrigar Sir or Sunil Gavaskar Sir in the later years and Dilip Vengsarkar. We have not been known to produce great fast bowlers, [though] there are few exceptions or some spinners like Padmakar Shivalkar Sir and others. But we have always been fortunate to have really good batsmen. This city is known for batsmen.
It has been said that a Mumbai cap comes at a very high premium. What does it mean to you?
It is very special. When I came into the Mumbai side, I was very young. I was 18 years old and I didn’t know much. I was playing cricket for school, for Under-19s, Under-16s of Mumbai and I did well there and got an opportunity early on. I was lucky that I got a triple-hundred in the very second game of my career and I could establish myself. The kind of players that I shared the dressing room with, Sanjay Manjrekar, Vinod Kambli , Sachin Tendulkar, later on and even the young players at that time, Amol Muzumdar, Sairaj Bahutule , Jatin Paranjpe , Abey Kuruvilla, all of them were either playing for India or were going to play for India sooner or later. So, when you were coming into the dressing room, you were in such awe of the players and ultimately when you share the dressing room, you learn so much. And I was lucky that I could survive this long and I could play this long. When you play for Mumbai, you are bound to win a few championships and I was part of the winning team a good seven-eight times. So, you get to stay in a winning atmosphere. So, I was lucky, people don’t get that much opportunity and I feel I am lucky that I am surviving for so many seasons.
What has been your most memorable knock so far?
I was lucky to score a couple of hundreds in the Ranji Trophy finals. Just because it was such an important game, I feel the one knock when I go a 98 against Tamil Nadu in 2003, was the most special one. It was probably because we had lost on the first innings and we had to make a match out of it and me and Nishit Shetty played. I got 98 and he got a hundred and we could post a decent total and get them out. That knock stayed special. All along I have got a few hundreds, but that knock stayed special because it came in a final and you always want to score runs in a tight game or on a big occasion so that even though it is not a hundred, it is still very special.
How has your batting evolved over the years and how have you adapted to various situations?
When I came in into the side I didn’t know much. Obviously, you have to come in and score runs to cement your place. You know all along that there is Sanjay Manjrekar, Vinod Kambli, Amol Mazumdar, Jatin Paranjpe; they are the ones who are going to score big… that responsibility has come to us now. There are few youngsters coming in and we are the ones that they will look at, so being senior players, we share that responsibility. Being a senior player you are the one who needs to show the way to the younger players and we are trying our best, myself, Ajit Agarkar, Ramesh Powar or whoever is there, who are going to go out of the scene in a few seasons, then those are the young players who will take the torch ahead.
What are the changes you have made to your batting especially while playing at different positions over the years?
When I started I was a very defensive player from school cricket. As you play first-class cricket, more you see the players and you see how the game has changed, you need to change your game yourself. So, for a few seasons I have tried to play lot more positively. It has happened probably happened ten years down the line. I went to England and learnt to play there. When you play in England, you are the only one in the club and looking to make most of the runs, so you start getting more responsible. As I said, I was a very defensive player and then I started to play more shots and learnt a few more shots and started to get a big aggressive. That is probably the only thing and as the game is changing, you need to change as well.
How difficult is it for a player, for example, a younger play like Suryakumar Yadav or someone even younger to learn to come in and pace his innings or adapt to different situations?
It comes with to experience. Surya is very new to the scene; once he plays a few more seasons, I am sure he is not going to play the same way. Aggression probably melts down a bit because then you try value your wicket a bit more and you know that once you get out, the team is probably in trouble. But he is very young to the first-class scene; once he plays a couple of seasons, people will also know how he bats and they will place the field accordingly and bowl accordingly. It comes with experience… once you play five-six seasons you learn how to play. When Abhishek Nayar came in, he was a very hard-hitting batsman. But now he has changed his approach a bit. He is more responsible now. I think it all happens with the amount of seasons you spend because you can’t just play in one way and survive this long. You need to keep changing your game and try and play accordingly. I think it happens to everyone and these young guys will improve as they play more seasons.
How does playing in Ranji Trophy and other domestic tournaments prepare a player to play on the international circuit?
It is very important for any first-class cricketer to have three or four seasons under his belt, before he goes to play on the international circuit. There are exceptions like Sachin Tendulkar; but they are exceptions. For every other player, they need to play first-class cricket for a good three-four seasons because you might have one very good season and then probably may not have a very good season in the following year because you can’t keep scoring thousand runs every season and you can’t take 50 wickets every season; so you learn that by playing three-four seasons. And then you know how first-class cricket works and how good you can become to survive in this league. It does not happen overnight. You need to play three-four good seasons to know how you can improve to become an international cricketer and what you need to do to stay in first-class cricket as well as try and reach international cricket. Every player can have 1000 runs or every other player can have fifty wickets but you will not see anybody have 1000 runs in back-to-back seasons.
Which young Mumbai player do you think is ready to play on the big stage?
Ajinkya Rahane is probably the one, who comes to my mind, simply because I have played with him for so many seasons and because he went with the India A tours and scored runs everywhere. He has got runs in the IPL and in one-day internationals and Twenty20s. So, just because of that I feel he is the one probably ready to play, especially in the Test side. Test is the one format which everybody looks at. Playing a Twenty20 game is a lot easier; one-day cricket is slightly difficult; but Test cricket is the one where if you score runs, people respect you or if you get wickets, people respect you. I feel he is probably the one after Virat Kohli who is ready to take on any position from No.1 to No.6.
Can you share with us something about Rahane and Rohit Sharma and their batting that stands out?
Rohit is far more talented than any of us, to be honest. The way he bats, I feel he should have scored many more runs than he has so far. I am sure a lot of people have said that before and I am not the first one. He is working hard on his game now and he realises that because time is running out and so many young players are coming through. You have seen Cheteshwar Pujara, he has taken that No.3 spot, Virat Kohli has come in and taken the No.5 spot. So, there are not many spots left especially in Test cricket. I am sure he is working is hard. Rohit, although he missed out on a chance because of an injury, but one or two good seasons or good scores will take him there as well.
Ajinkya Rahane has got runs everywhere and he is probably ready to play. I feel he is the next man to play for India.
After you surpassed Amol Muzumdar as the leading run-getter in the Ranji Trophy last year, he has overtaken you this year.
He didn’t play first-class cricket, so I could go ahead of him. But we are friends after all; whether he takes the pole position or I take it, it is not going to matter much. I enjoy the competition. I overtook him last year and when I was away on Hajj, he overtook me. I am happy he has is scoring runs.