In his nearly 25 years long first-class career, Wasim Jaffer bagged records that will make players with much more international experience look pale in comparison.
The 42-year-old retired from all forms of cricket recently, with 31 Tests and two ODIs to his name. Anyone who watched his game closely, though, will know that his stay in international cricket was a fair bit shorter than it should have been.
The fact that he holds the record for the most matches (156), most runs (12,038), most hundreds (40), most fifties (89), most catches (200) in Ranji Trophy history is a true reflection of the ability he possessed.
But again, for those who followed his career closely, it isn’t just these staggering numbers that set him apart from the slam-bang superstars of modern-day cricket. It was the time he had to play his shots, the manner in which the ball raced off his bat, the lazy elegance, the sheer class.
In a conversation with Scroll.in, Jaffer spoke about how he managed to sustain his level during his marathon innings in domestic cricket.
Here are excerpts:
You played at a high level for well over two decades, were in and out of the Indian team, yet your commitment towards the game never dropped. What was the biggest challenge for you?
The biggest challenge for me was to remain fit. The desire to play never left me. Even when I was dropped from the Indian team and wasn’t in the reckoning for a comeback, it didn’t bother me because I just enjoyed playing. I took in my stride that I may not get to play for India again. For me it was only important to keep playing, whether it was for India, Mumbai, Vidarbha, my corporate team Indian Oil, my local club, or in English County cricket. The joy of batting and scoring runs kept me going. There’s no question that I wanted to play for India for a longer period, but some things aren’t in your hands.
How difficult was it to sustain your level? We see several instances of players bursting onto the scene with sensational performances, or even have a good season or two, but not many come close to having the consistency you had for such a long period of time.
I expected myself to perform at a certain level and I tried my best to not let that drop. Each time I went out to bat, I expected myself to score hundreds. No matter which team I played for, I wanted to be the person who scores the most number of runs. This mindset was instilled in me from a young age.
One thing that helped immensely was playing a lot of County cricket. Those four months in England each year inculcated a sense of responsibility in me. Because in County cricket, you’re paid decent money and are one of maybe two or three professionals in the team. So they expect you to have a big impact and contribute significantly. Having that sense of responsibility then translated into every team I played for. I had that level of expectancy from myself at all times.
Talking about County cricket, how important was it for you to have an off-season?
Very important. The concept of having an off-season has gone completely now. This concept was prevalent in the pre-Indian Premier League era. Back then, once the domestic season would end in March-April, everyone wanted to go and play in England. And there were many advantages to that – you could keep yourself busy with cricket and avoid the monsoon season back home, you could earn some money, and because the matches were over weekends, you could work on your game for four-five days in the week and prepare for the upcoming season.
All that is finished now. Players compete for two months in the IPL, which is a high-intensity tournament in the summer, and then they need a bit of a break if there’s a window for it. The IPL even pays well so the players don’t feel the need to go abroad and play. Tests specialist like Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane and Ravichandran Ashwin have gone and played County cricket for brief periods but no one can afford to go for four months, like we used to back then. If you’re in the reckoning for the Indian team in all formats, and you’re a part of the IPL as well, it’s very difficult to find the time for County cricket.
Do you feel the Indian players are missing a trick by not playing domestic cricket abroad consistently? After all, we did see them struggle in New Zealand recently.
It all depends on the kind of cricket each individual is playing round the year. Someone who knows he won’t make it to the Test team and is only focusing on white-ball cricket, why would he go to England and play domestic cricket? Players like Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma and the others who are a part of the Test team will definitely benefit by playing County cricket. But for those who’re only interested in one-day and T20 cricket, it makes no sense.
How exactly would Indian players benefit by playing in English County cricket?
Personally, I am all for players going and playing County cricket. I believe everyone who can go, should go. Because there are so many different challenges out there. The Dukes ball, the pitches, the effect that the weather has on the pitch and conditions. From April to September, the conditions out there change completely. There’s even a difference in playing in north England and down south. So you learn so many things.
Countless greats of the game – Wasim Akram, Kapil Dev, Imran Khan, Malcolm Marshall, Courtney Walsh, to name a few – played for many, many years in County cricket. That helped them develop skills that were second to none. They improved by playing in all those different conditions. I would encourage youngsters to go to England and play. If they get a chance, I am all for it. It gives you a totally different perspective. You go out of your comfort zone, you live alone in tough conditions, and you learn to find answers to difficult questions.