Former India cricketer Wasim Jaffer found himself in the middle of a controversy this week as he resigned from the position of head coach of the Uttarakhand cricket team after a dispute with the state association.
Jaffer tendered his resignation after allegations that he tried to force religion-based selections in the Uttarakhand team, which he has denied on social media and in a press conference he held on Wednesday.
The 42-year-old, who played 31 Test matches and two One-Day Internationals, is the highest run-scorer in first-class cricket in India and announced his retirement from professional cricket in 2020.
Jaffer was appointed as the head coach of the state team in June 2020. He had signed a one-year contract with the Cricket Association of Uttarakhand. The team won only one out of their five matches in the recent Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 Trophy.
It all started with Jaffer’s resignation on Tuesday as he cited interference in team selection by Mahim Verma, the secretary of the CAU.
“I feel really sad for the players as I genuinely think that they have lots of potential and can learn so much from me but are denied this opportunity because of so much interference and bias of selectors and secretary in the selection matters for non-deserving players,” Jaffer wrote in an e-mail to the Cricket Association of Uttarakhand, according to ESPNCricinfo.
“If the honorary secretary of CAU would want to inculcate such kind of work environment while not letting me take certain decisions pertaining to the team’s welfare and performance... then I don’t think there’s any valid reason for me to continue as head coach of men’s senior team of CAU.”
This was followed by a report in the Hindi newspaper Jagran that had Uttarakhand team manager Navneet Mishra accusing the former India cricketer of selecting players based on their religion and creating a communal atmosphere withing the squad. He was also accused of discouraging players from chanting “Ram-bhakt Hanuman ki jai” in team huddles.
Another allegation levelled against Jaffer was that he requested to bring a maulvi inside the team’s bio-bubble for the players to pray.
Verma also rejected accusations by Jaffer that he interfered in the process of selecting the team.
“We gave him whatever he asked for, had a pre-season camp for a month, let him choose his outstation players, trainer and bowling coach, but his interference in selection matters was getting too much,” Verma had told PTI.
“After the result in Mushtaq Ali did not meet our expectations, the selectors wanted to try out a few other players but he kept insisting on picking his own team, which is not right as selectors are there, too, to do their job,” he added.
Jaffer put out a tweet on Wednesday in which he denied all the allegations against him by the Uttarakhand Cricket Association.
Jaffer also held a virtual media briefing earlier on Wednesday in which he explained his side of the story. He said that the communal allegations against him were serious and “very, very sad”.
Here’s what he had to say:
“The allegations which have been made, these are serious allegations... The communal angle that has been levelled against me, that is very very sad, that I come and speak about it... you all know me and have seen me for a long time, so you all know how I am.
“I never took any of the suggestions that were thrown at me (with regards to the batting order). All the players who played in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, I played them on my belief. I even dropped Samad Fallah for the last game. Had I been communal, both Samad Fallah and Mohammad Nazim would have played all the games. It’s a very petty thing to say or even think. I wanted to give opportunities to newer players.
“Had I been communal, why would have I brought Jay Bista as a professional? I even wanted to make him the captain. It was the selectors who felt that Iqbal Abdullah was a better candidate for captaincy since he was senior and had played IPL. I agreed with their suggestion.
“First all of, these slogans (Ram-bhakt hanuman ki Jai) were not there. When we were playing practise matches, these players inside the huddle used to say ‘Rani Mata Sacche Darbar Ki Jay.’ I didn’t hear them say Jai Hanuman, Jai Shree Ram. It is a chant of the Sikh community and we had two people from there, so they used to say that.
“When we reached Baroda, I said to them, we are not playing as a community, we are playing for Uttarakhand, so our slogan should be for Uttarakhand – ‘Go Uttarakhand’ or ‘Let’s do it Uttarakhand’ or ‘Come on Uttarakhand’ - the way Chandu Sir (Chandrakant Pandit) used to do in Vidarbha, that was the idea since the 11-12 players in the team huddle were from a different faith. The allegations are all false and baseless, if there was a communal angle, I would have told them to say Alla-o-Akbar.
“The Maulavi, Maulana, who came on Friday, I had not called them and the Maulana were called by Iqbal Abdulla. He probably knew someone in Dehradun and on Friday, there is prayer in a gathering, Jumma Namaz.
“If I was communal, I could have kept the practise at 9 AM and could have ended it at 12 noon, so that I could go at 1.30 PM and offer Namaz as Jumma Namaz takes place at 1.30-2.00 PM. I could have done that, but everyday we used to practise around 12.00-12.30. Only for Fridays Iqbal took the permission, as there were three-four others. Only after we finished practice, only on Fridays, inside the dressing room, we offered Namaz for five minutes. Nothing happened beyond this and the bio bubble was never breached.
“When the Syed Mushtaq Ali team was being selected, I was there with the four selectors and the CEO. The secretary wasn’t there. But for the Vijay Hazare Trophy, I was neither a part of the meeting nor was it discussed with me. If Mahim Verma had taken me there to improve cricket, I needed a bit of freedom. If things have to run the way it has always been running, there was no point of me joining there.
“There was a time when, over a phone call between me, the CEO, the secretary and the chief selector, Mahim Verma was making suggestions about which player should play and which player shouldn’t, and I had to tell that since he doesn’t understand cricket, he should leaving those decisions with me and the selectors.
“This (communal bias) is a serious allegation. And if there was indeed a communal bias, I wouldn’t have resigned, they would have sacked me.”— Wasim Jaffer in a virtual press conference on Wednesday
Former India cricketers like Anil Kumble and Irfan Pathan have lent their support to Jaffer over the past two days.
“With you Wasim. Did the right thing. Unfortunately it’s the players who’ll miss your mentor ship,” Kumble wrote on Twitter.
Now, in a fresh development on Friday, Verma was quoted as saying by Hindustan Times that he never knew of any allegation of communal bias against Jaffer.
“No such thing has come in front of me during camp or matches (allegations of communal bias),” said Verma. “We have asked for the full report and explanation from the team manager (Mishra, who had made the allegations), which we will get by Friday.”
In his response to being accused of bringing a maulvi inside the team’s bio-bubble, Jaffer had said that it was Iqbal Abdullah who had done that.
Now, in an interview with The Indian Express, Abdullah has said that he brought the maulvi only after getting permission from Mishra, the team’s manager.
“We cannot offer Friday’s namaaz without a maulvi. We offered namaaz only when our practice got over at around 3:40 pm. I first asked Wasim bhai if I could call the maulvi for prayers. He told me to get permission from the team manager,” Abdullah was quoted as saying.
“I spoke to manager Navneet Mishra and he said, ‘koi nahi Iqbal, prayer-dharm first (no problem, prayer and religion is most important). The manager gave me the permission and that is why I asked the maulvi to lead the prayer.”
The 31-year-old left-arm spinner also lent his support to Jaffer, suggesting the allegations by the administrators were made due to ulterior motives.
“Wasim bhai always put the team first and never tried to communalise the team,” he said. “As a cricketer, one never wants to hear such allegations. I spoke to Wasim bhai, he is hurt. These allegations are being made to divert from real issues.”
On Friday, ahead of the second Test between India and England, vice captain Ajinkya Rahane steered clear of the issue.
“Sir, I don’t have an idea regarding this issue, what has happened, so I don’t think that I should comment on this topic, because I don’t have an idea,” Rahane said at the virtual press conference on the eve of the match in Chennai.
Rahane and Jaffer have together played for Mumbai and the West Zone.
In the Indian Express on Saturday, former India cricketer Mohammed Kaif wrote that it is a sign of the times where “social media trolls do their worst to divide our country.”
“As a country, we need to do a lot of soul-searching. We are at a vital point in our history; we can’t afford to divide ourselves. It’s dangerous and self-defeating in the end. I understand sports don’t exist in some special bio-bubble,” Kaif wrote.