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'The younger generation needs to understand that Test cricket is the pinnacle' - Wasim Jaffer

'The younger generation needs to understand that Test cricket is the pinnacle' - Wasim Jaffer

Interview by Rvel Zahid

Former India opener and domestic cricket stalwart Wasim Jaffer retired at 42. This year's Ranji Trophy was his swansong season. He has represented India in 31 Tests and shared dressing rooms with the likes of Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar. Wasim scored heaps of runs in domestic cricket in his career that spanned over two decades. He has tumbled numerous records in his illustrious domestic career, scored 12,038 runs and struck 40 centuries. When he gets set, he makes sure to make the bowlers pay and one example of his prowess was when he decimated Pakistan's bowling attack in 2008 as he scored a brave, nimble-footed double-century (202) in Kolkata. He thumped another spellbinding massive double-ton against West Indies in Antigua back in 2006. The domestic giant is right up there with greats like Gavaskar, Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid in the runs column as he has piled up a colossal 19,410 runs in domestic cricket. His flowing cover drives, pristine straight-bat shots, sheer timing and stand and deliver stuff was a pleasure to watch. Wasim's penchant for scoring big knocks helped Mumbai win Ranji Trophy eight times before he moved to Vidarbha and helped them win the premier domestic competition twice and all this speaks volumes of his invaluable contribution to Indian cricket. As a prolific batsman and a selfless protege, he inspired a whole generation of cricketers. Jaffer was born to play this sport and after all these years, he is now looking forward to the coaching role in the upcoming season of IPL with Kings XI Punjab. 

How special for you was the 202-run knock against Pakistan in 2008?  

It was probably one of my best innings. Pakistani attack was very good and I remember getting 192 by the end of day one. Everything felt good on that today, everything came off the middle of the bat. It was one of those days when everything clicked. It felt really nice; it was probably my first double hundred at international level so it gave me immense belief and confidence and that performance remain very close to my heart

With no IPL on the cards (most likely), how disappointed are you to miss out on a maiden coaching stint with Kings XI?  

IPL is obviously something which I was looking forward to very keenly because it was going to be my first stint as a batting coach in IPL so to rub shoulders with Chris Gayle, KL Rahul and Glenn Maxwell and all the other players...I was looking forward to it but the need of the hour is obviously getting this COVID-19 out of our lives because so many lives have been lost so it's incumbent upon us to stay at home and get this out of our lives. All over the world people are suffering so all the sporting events have got postponed and cancelled so IPL getting cancelled was not something unexpected.

The suggestion of holding it behind closed doors is considered but it won't be the same thing. The crowds coming in and like 40-50 thousand people in the stadium is a surreal experience so once this pandemic ends and normality resumes, all these sporting events will take place after that but at this point of time I feel the human lives are far more important and, then once this ends, we can always get back to normal routine.

What's the importance of footwork and do you think the importance of foot movement is overrated because Amla, Trescothick, Kevin Pietersen got away with not moving their feet a lot?  

I think footwork plays a very important role in any batsman's game. The better you move and the better or earlier you get into the position I think you can play your shorts pretty well. If you look at all the good and great players right from Don Bradman to Viv Richards to Sachin Tendulkar to Javed Miandad and even Kevin Pietersen, Virat Kohli—they all move their feet well. They get into position early so it is indeed very very important.

It all depends on where you're playing also because if you are playing in England then the footwork becomes very important because the ball moves a lot sideways but if you're playing in subcontinent then probably it doesn't affect that much so if your footwork is precise and if your footwork is good then I feel it helps you to come and take a position early and it gives you a little bit of extra time to play the shots.

How important is the mental side of the game for a batsman to flourish in international cricket?  

I think the mental side plays the most important role in elite sports because you know technically most of the players are pretty much the same but somebody who is mentally tough and stable I feel they are the ones who flourish in international sports so I think it plays an extremely important role—how good is your mental space is often a result of your support from family and everything else that revolves around your life. If you are in happy space I think it helps you to play really well and if you ask all those (sportspersons) who have done well in their respective sports, they will tell you that it plays a very integral part in a successful player's life. As a batsman, I feel (being mentally tough) helps you to move well in batting as well because somebody who's in a very good state of mind would make good decisions so I am of the view that it is one of the most important facets in top-level sports.

'I played with him in Royal Challengers Bangalore in 2008 and he came into that season immediately after winning the Under-19 WorldCup. He was very young, very brash but he has changed since then.'

Is Test cricket in danger and are players from the current era putting less emphasis on the purest form of the game?  

I think the new or the current generation are not that keen to play four-day or five-day cricket. That is what I felt when I was playing first-class cricket in the last four or five years. Simply because you know the younger generation, they get so much money early in the career by just playing IPL tournament and IPL gives them such a big platform to perform.

It gives them such huge money at the start of their career which I feel is not a really good idea because then the youngsters are not keen on playing the four-day, five-day stuff simply because the workload is so high, especially from the bowler's point of view because they need to bowl 20-25 overs in a day, play four-five days of very intense cricket and so there is a danger so we need to tell them that playing Test cricket is important.

Many young players are turning to T20 cricket but I feel it is very very important for them to understand that Test cricket is the pinnacle for a cricketer to perform and the players who perform in Test cricket, let's say somebody who gets 300+ wickets or like 10,000 tuns in test cricket, are the ones we call legends so they need to understand this.

They need to give importance to all three formats. This generation needs to, first of all, build their game, adapt to all three formats of the game. They need to look at players like Virat Kohli, Steve Smith, Kane Williamson, Joe Root, Babar Azam—who play all formats and they play all formats really well. Somebody like Mitchell Starc among bowlers, Pat Cummins, Jasprit Bumrah, Josh Hazlewood is another name, Kagiso Rabada are prime examples.

What has been the role of your family in the entire ebbs and flows of your career?  

My family played an extremely important role in my career. My parents have sacrificed quite a lot. My brothers have sacrificed a lot. Since I came from a very humble background, my father was the only member who was earning so it wasn't that easy for me at the start of my career. I feel it is very very important in any cricketer's life...since when you are at the age of 16 or 17, I feel it is the family who plays a very vital role at that stage of your career because you don't know what is right and what is wrong for you. You don't know what's good for you so the guidance is critical at that stage. I feel it plays a very significant role. In my case also, my parents, my brothers were my strength. Without their help and support, I think it couldn't have been possible for me to where I am at the moment. I am very grateful to them for the sacrifices they made for me.

What makes Rohit Sharma the best cricketing brain according to your assessment? What distinguishes him from his contemporaries?  

Rohit Sharma made his debut in Mumbai team. I have played alongside him and I feel his calm demeanour, his personality makes him a very good leader. The way he led Mumbai Indians in the last six-seven years was brilliant. They won the IPL four times under his captaincy so I think in crunch moments the way he backs his players, the way he makes his decisions and the way he leads his teammates and inspires them into action makes him an exceptional leader.

He has won some very close games even while leading the Indian team he has done well. He has made full use of the opportunity when Virat was not available. I think he won the Asia Cup, 2018 Nidahas Trophy as well so whatever limited opportunities he got as a leader (he performed well) and I feel he has got the leadership skills in him and when an opportunity arises he could do the job. His track record is terrific and his captaincy doesn't affect his own game which makes it even better so I feel he has got a very tactically sharp brain and he is not very expressive, he doesn't show a lot of emotions which I feel helps one as a captain. He is similar to MS Dhoni in that regard so I feel that he has got a very sharp mind which is helping him lead in IPL and probably I see him as a future India captain.

'When we used to watch matches in Sharjah so Indian players and the public wanted Javed to get out early because if he stayed around they knew the match is going to go till the very end.'

What makes Virat Kohli so successful and reliable as a batsman?  

I think Virat is a very special player, he has worked really really hard. I played with him in Royal Challengers Bangalore in 2008 and he came into that season immediately after winning the Under-19 WorldCup. He was very young, very brash but the way he changed himself since 2012-13 and the kind of batsman that he has turned into, the fitness level that he has maintained and the consistency he has shown for such a long period of time makes him a very very special player. And I think the game especially the way we have talked about the footwork, getting into a good position and the kind of shots that he plays, the fight, the intensity, the energy that he brings as a player makes him a very special player.

I feel the way he is performing and the kind of fitness he is showing, he is easily going to play for another 7-8 years if not more. In my assessment, he has the game and he has got the ability to break all the records so he is special and not to mention, maintaining the fifty-plus average in all three formats is remarkable. His consistency, as I said, over such a long period makes him special and he wasn't very very gifted as other players were but he has worked extremely hard on his game and fitness. He is an inspiration for the youngsters because he proves that if you work hard enough if you do hours and hours of practice, work hard and show dedication then everything is possible so Virat Kohli is an ideal role model.

How proud do you feel to share the dressing room with greats like Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman? 

I think there were too many big cricketers (that I played with). Rahul Dravid, Saurav, Laxman, Anil Kumble, Zaheer Khan, Virender Sehwag and I feel very very honoured and privileged to share dressing rooms with them and to get the chance to play with them. Whatever little time I got to play with them, I feel very lucky about it. That was probably the time when Indian cricket was transforming under the captaincy of Saurav Ganguly. Before that, Indian team used to play well too but I think since the 2000s when Saurav was promoted to captaincy, I feel that was the time when Indian cricket changed and India played well overseas too. I consider myself lucky that I was around that time and we went onto win the series in England, West Indies so that was a very special time and it was my good fortune to play with them and play in that era.

Is coaching something that intrinsically excites you is it like a necessity for you post-retirement?

I think coaching definitely excites me because, from the last five-seven years of my playing career, I have worked as a player-cum-mentor for the sides I have been playing (Vidarbha). It gives me a lot of satisfaction when I help somebody and to see young players perform and see them grow as a cricketer is awesome. Therefore, obviously I think it will be an easy transformation for me and it will allow me to stay connected to the game—something that I have done all my life so I feel coaching is definitely going to excite me.

Which players from Pakistan you used to follow when you were growing up?  

I think players from Pakistan as far as I recall when I was little, there were many India-Pakistan matches in Sharjah and I used to follow them with great interest. The obvious choices would be Imran Khan, Javed Miandad, Abdul Qadir—many people used to copy Abdul Qadir' action. Imran was such a fantastic leader. I have heard some great stories from many people. Javed Miandad, again, what a player he was. When we used to watch matches in Sharjah so Indian players and the public wanted Javed to get out early because if he stayed around they knew the match is going to go till the very end so he was one of the finest players and later on, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, I have watched the two Ws, two fantastic bowlers, very closely. Thereafter, I followed Inzamam-ul-Haq and Saqlain Mushtaq— he was a tremendous bowler.

In the current line-up, Babar Azam is the next big thing in world cricket along with those top four players Virat, Smith, Williamson and Joe Root. I think (Babar) is number five in my list. I like Asad Shafiq quite a lot—he is a very fine player but he has not performed to the level that he should have done.

Mohammad Yousuf was another good player. I used to love his batting. I have played a lot of cricket with him in Lashings in England so I have spent a lot of time with him. I think he was a world-class player. Younis Khan was a fighter and I thought he was a very fine player that Pakistan has produced. I used to follow all these players very keenly. These are the players who have done so well for Pakistan.

What kept you motivated to toil in domestic cricket for nearly 25 years despite not hearing back from the selectors? What kept you going in all these years?  

I think the love for the game has actually kept me going because that is the only thing I have done all my life so even when I was dropped from the Indian side, I don't think my motivation ever left me. I made three or four comebacks in the Indian team but every time I was dropped, it didn't impact my hunt (for the game) and I worked even harder and wanted to improve.

I always wanted to better myself from the last day or from the last season. This is what kept me going and since 2008 when I knew that getting another comeback is probably going to be hard but I would say the love for batting, the love to be at the ground and do well and help the youngsters, help the team that I am playing, that has kept me in high spirits.

Probably the last three-four seasons that I have played for Vidarbha and the fact that we won four trophies has probably motivated me more and I wanted to help the team which has never played a semifinal and they ended up winning four titles so that pushed me to continue playing. The reason was always to play and play as long as I can and even if I don't get a chance to represent India, for whatever team that I was playing whether it was my corporate team, state team or my club team, I just wanted to play well and play to my expectations and keep improving myself, that was the key.

What was it like to play alongside Inzamam-ul-Haq and Saqlain Mushtaq for Lashings in the UK? Did you make any friends as usually Pakistanis and Indians get along very nicely?

Yes indeed, I played for like 8-9 years for lashings in England and I consider myself very lucky to play alongside such huge names of cricket. I got an opportunity to play with players like Inzamam, Saqlain, Yousaf from Pakistan. I played a bit with Mushi bhai (Mushtaq Ahmed) too. Shoaib Akhtar has also played for some time (in county cricket). From other countries,  Aravinda DeSilva, Mark Ramprakash, Curtly Ambrose,  Courtney Walsh,  Richie Richardson, Ian Harvey from Australia so playing with these great players and sharing dressing rooms with them, talking with them, sharing never-ending stories was an unbelievable experience.  

People have a perception that we have tensions but generally, we (Pakistani and Indian players) are all good friends. Yasir Arafat is one of my dear friends because he lives in England so I meet him regularly and due to Lashings, I got this incredible opportunity to meet with all these fantastic people. It used to feel so great to meet up and eat together, play competitive cricket and we enjoyed a lot.