Wasim Jaffer celebrated his 41st birthday this year, on February 16, with a second successive Irani Cup triumph. After two decades and eight Ranji Trophy titles with his home state of Mumbai, Jaffer is on a dream run with Vidarbha at the moment. He knows the end is near, but the man, who holds the record for the most runs (11,775), centuries (40), matches (149) and catches (191) in Ranji Trophy history, isn’t done just yet.
In part one of his interview with Scroll.in, Jaffer shares his thoughts on the quality of the Ranji Trophy today, the impact of professional cricketers in domestic cricket, his problem with IPL auctions, and more.
Excerpts from the interview:-
You’ve had yet another phenomenal season with the bat - scoring 1037 runs, with four hundreds and two fifties - and finished as the second-highest run-getter in the Ranji Trophy. At this stage in your career, do you start a season expecting so much from yourself?
To be honest, I expect every season to go like this. I prepare myself to be able to play at this level, or even higher. Sometimes things go your way, sometimes they don’t. But I ensure my preparation on and off the field is very good. That’s the only way to succeed. Even when I didn’t have the best seasons, there was nothing lacking in my preparation. I’d like to advise every young cricketer to focus on the process, not the result. It all falls into place if you do the right thing for a long period of time.
Talk us through your preparation. How does one train to stay at such a high level?
I like to bat a lot. That has always been my mantra. I need to feel happy coming out of a practice session. In the last three-four seasons, I’ve also worked extra hard on my fitness, since it gets difficult sometimes with my age. Skill-wise, I simply bat a lot! That feeling of correct foot movement and ball-striking is what I look for. One has to have a clear head, too. You formulate a game-plan and then don’t think about anything else while going in to bat. You have to visualise and prepare for the next opposition. If you don’t think that far ahead, you’ll find yourself in trouble. I’ve learned these things through experience. As long as you keep nailing the process, success does come eventually.
You decided to move out of Mumbai two years ago, having achieved immense success with them for over two decades. What prompted the move?
I’d been getting offers from a lot of states, ever since I was dropped from the Indian team in 2008-’09. I never accepted any of those offers because I was made captain of Mumbai at that time.That was a huge privilege and honour. Also, I was hoping to get back to the Indian team. But around 2014-’15, I started to feel it was the right time to move on. The Mumbai selectors, too, were giving me a hint that I might be dropped for the one-day tournament. I didn’t feel that was right because I was doing well at that time. So, I decided to look elsewhere, to challenge myself and get a better opportunity.
Why did you choose Vidarbha?
I wanted to go to a developing state, but one that had a vision to win and not just participate. There were three-four teams that I was considering. Vidarbha had approached me once earlier, but I had declined. This time, though, I felt that they were the right team for me. They had players like S Badrinath, Ganesh Satish, Faiz Fazal and Umesh Yadav. So, they had a pretty strong side and ticked all the boxes for me. Plus, it was in Maharashtra so I didn’t have to travel a lot. Vidarbha suited me really well.
Winning the Ranji-Irani double two years in a row cannot be a fluke. Vidarbha is doing well in age-group cricket, too. What are your thoughts on the system they have set up? How is it any different from what the others are doing?
The major changes at Vidarbha started to happen after 2009, when they laid the foundation for their residential academy. All the district players from various age groups could stay there and practice. They got an indoor set-up, too, with a gym, swimming pool and all the right training facilities. They even had an Australian coach come over, along with Sulakshan Kulkarni and Subroto Banerjee. Bringing in Chandrakant Pandit was also the right move. For me, that was the stepping stone to the success they are achieving today. The best thing about their administration is that cricket and cricketers are their priority. They’re reaping rewards for the foundation that they laid in 2009. You’ve got to give credit to Shashank Manohar and all the other members of administration. I feel most states need to take a leaf out of Vidarbha’s book. It’s a small place but full of talented cricketers. In the Ranji team, most of the players are in a small age bracket. So, they will continue to play together for the next four-five years.
Could you reflect on Chandrakant Pandit, the coach? He seems to have the Midas touch. In terms of technical inputs, game strategy and man-management, how does he operate?
He’s a bit old-school in his methods, knows how to bring a unit together. Each and every member of the group is brought out of his comfort zone. No matter how experienced you are, a spot in the eleven is never guaranteed. These are the things that set Pandit apart. These days, I feel coaches tend to get too lenient with youngsters, They need to be told harsh things as well. That’s where Pandit stands out. His man-management skills are extraordinary. Even in terms of match strategy, he is completely hands-on. Except for actually stepping on the field to play, he is involved in everything else. During a match, he doesn’t miss a ball. During off days, he regularly has meetings with each player. This is why he gets the results, because he’s so committed, and we need to admire him for that.
What are your thoughts on the quality of cricket we are seeing in the Ranji Trophy now?
It’s changing with times. We’re getting more outright wins. The board is trying to get all the teams to play on sporting tracks, by bringing in neutral curators, which I think is a great move. But the board needs to get a little stricter in this regard. The neutral curators shouldn’t allow the home ones to dictate the nature of the pitch. We’ll have good cricketers coming up only if we play on sporting tracks. Apart from this, I can’t complain about the level of the Ranji Trophy today. Given the limited time-frame each year, where tournaments of all three formats have to be included, there’s not much that can be done. Personally, I’d want a few more days between each game. But that isn’t possible considering the lack of time. I think the BCCI [Borad of Control for Cricket in India] is doing everything they can, and I’m pretty happy with things at the moment. Even the umpiring has improved quite a lot over the years.
But with the advent of T20 leagues, do you feel the level of competitiveness in first-class cricket has dropped?
The only issue is the approach of the youngsters. I get scared thinking whether they even want to play first-class cricket. Kids who are playing in the IPL, are they keen to take first-class cricket seriously? In my honest opinion, people who have never played the IPL shouldn’t get three-four crores, or even more, in the auction. That needs to stop. Sometimes a player, who has never played in the IPL, does well in the Mumbai Premier League, or the Tamil Nadu Premier League, or the Karnataka Premier League, and gets three-four-five crores in the IPL auction. That isn’t fair. Only someone who has already proven himself in the IPL before should command such figures. It’s fine if they’ve performed in the Ranji Trophy and are getting such amounts, but not when they’re coming up through some X, Y, Z domestic league. The jump from an MPL or TNPL to the IPL is huge.
Take Shivam Dube, for instance. He has got four-five crores in the auction without having played the IPL before. For him to suddenly jump to that stage and perform at that level will be hard. I hope he does well, but the expectations will be high. And that can be detrimental for his growth, too. I hope the BCCI looks into this.
“Walking in to bat, fighting it out in the middle, scoring hundreds, these things still give me immense happiness. I don’t get that from anywhere else.”
Professional cricketers are proving to be a huge change in domestic cricket. How do you view this change?
The role of a professional cricketer, or even a coach for that matter, is highlighted when their home state decides to push them out for various reasons. That, of course, can be an advantage for a team like Vidarbha. Even in the past, teams like Rajasthan have roped in players like Hrishikesh Kanitkar, Rashmi Parida and Aakash Chopra to win multiple Ranji titles. There are several such examples. Also, it isn’t just about winning titles. A professional cricketer can inspire local players with his work ethic and attitude. That will be beneficial for the state in the long run. The inputs received by a state team from a professional cricketer, who has come from outside, are priceless. As long as professionals conduct themselves well, Indian cricket will continue to grow.
What next for you? What’s motivating you to keep going?
For me to just showcase my talent at that level, even though I know that I can’t play for India anymore, is gratifying. Walking in to bat, fighting it out in the middle, scoring hundreds, these things still give me immense happiness. I don’t get that from anywhere else. Right now, it’s easy for me to motivate myself since I’ve won back-to-back titles. Maybe if I was part of a team that wasn’t doing well, I would’ve stopped playing. At the start of this season, the challenge was to prove that last year’s triumph wasn’t a fluke. Next year, probably, the challenge will be to make it a hat-trick of titles. But I know I don’t have a lot of time left. That motivation is slowly coming down. I’ll keep going as long as I enjoy doing the hard yards behind the scene. Right now, I’m looking to play another season and then see what happens. And after that, I intend to do things that are connected to cricket, be it coaching or commentary, whatever comes my way.
(In the second part of this interview, Jaffer details the changes Mumbai cricket needs to make to get back to winning ways. Read it here)