Wasim Jaffer: Honours Graduate from the Mumbai School of Batting
The solidity in his defence and straight bat technique won the purists' admiration
He was Indian cricket’s marathon man. Not many can boast of a first-class career that lasts 24 years but then Wasim Jaffer’s passion for the game knew no bounds. He just loved to bat long hours, hit centuries and double centuries and even a triple hundred. In fact that triple was hit only in his second first class match in 1996-97 and from then on Jaffer’s name was associated with the age old qualities of the longer version of cricket: dedication, determination, concentration and commitment.
And he brought along these qualities to his Test career which was fairly successful. But when it came to domestic cricket Jaffer was nothing short of a legend.
Some of his records are of the eye rubbing, mind boggling variety, even for someone who hailed from the Mumbai school of batting, which has produced the likes of Vijay Merchant, Rusi Modi, Polly Umrigar, Vijay Manjrekar, Dilip Sardesai, Ajit Wadekar, Sunil Gavaskar, Dilip Vengsarkar, Sanjay Manjrekar, Sachin Tendulkar and Rohit Sharma.
A quick glance at the above names and it can be seen how much Indian cricket is indebted to this school that has provided style, substance and solidity. In this ‘institution’ the breezy and attractive 50s and 60s might have their place in the game but are not enough to win matches. Here batsmen are thought to play a long innings, the kind of knock that drives bowlers to desperation and captains to frustration, and takes the match away from the opposition. An insatiable appetite for runs and a penchant for big scores is a must to graduate from this school with honours.
A string of notable scores saw Jaffer make his Test debut against South Africa in early 2000 amidst much hope and expectations. He failed with scores of 4, 6, 13 and 23 even though he did show glimpses of an unflappable temperament. However his international career not unexpectedly was put on hold. ‘Good for Mumbai, not for India’ said the cynics, but the selectors could not ignore the big scores he continued to notch up around the domestic circuit.
Jaffer obviously believed in his bat doing the talking, and making the first of his comebacks on the tour of the West Indies in 2002 he came up with successive knocks of 51 and 86 at Bridgetown and St John’s to raise hopes of solving the Indian team’s problem at the top of the order.
But in England later that year he came a cropper, and one half century and three failures in the two Tests again saw him sidelined for nearly four years.
Displaying a never say die attitude, Jaffer continued with his run-making forcing the selectors to recall him in 2006 and for the next two years he was a regular in the side. He also came up with the kind of scores that one had always expected of him. He marked his comeback with a splendid double of 81 and 100 against England at Nagpur, and on the tour of the West Indies that followed his batting really bloomed.
By now all the elements of the Mumbai school of batting were in evidence, and to this Jaffer added a touch all his own: a supple wrist that saw him almost charm the ball away from the fielders. The drive he played with aplomb, the cut with relish. Above all though there was the solidity in his defence and straight bat technique that won the purists’ admiration.
It remained only to be seen whether he could convert his big scores at the domestic level into big scores on the international stage. He did so gloriously in the first Test at St John’s. India were 130 runs behind on the first innings and it was shortly before lunch on the third day. By stumps Jaffer had diligently worked his way to 113. The following morning he carried on relentlessly till he was fourth out at 375.
His monumental 212 was one of the rare occasions when an Indian scored a double century in the second innings. During his stay of a shade over 500 minutes he displayed the triple qualities of dedication, determination and concentration in no small measure, dominating a 203-run third wicket stand with Rahul Dravid. He had more modest successes in the Test series but it was this knock that saw Jaffer hailed as the technician supreme.
From now there was no looking back for Jaffer. There was a rare Test hundred for an Indian opener in South Africa against Dale Steyn, Makhaya Ntini and Shaun Pollock followed by another in Bangladesh. Two half-centuries in six innings in England in 2007 saw him erase his unhappy experiences of five years ago, and later that year came a double century against Pakistan at Kolkata.
Jaffer’s average till the unhappy first phase of his career was 20 but now it approached 40. A rather lean finish to his Test career - in his last 13 innings he got but one half century - saw Jaffer’s average dip to 34 after 31 Tests. But with a tally of almost 2,000 runs with five hundreds and eleven fifties, he had made himself a vital cog in the Indian top order.
About Jaffer’s domestic record one can just go on and on. His rich legacy of Ranji Trophy records includes the most matches (156), most runs (12,038), most hundreds (40), most catches (200). He is also the highest run scorer in the Duleep Trophy (2,545 runs) and the Irani Cup (1,294). He is the only batsman to score over 1,000 runs in a Ranji Trophy season twice (2008-09 and 2018-19).
Jaffer is the fifth highest run getter in Indian first class cricket behind Sunil Gavaskar, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman, and has been part of a Ranji trophy winning side ten times. With 57 first-class hundreds he is fourth in the list behind Gavaskar and Tendulkar (81 each) and VS Hazare (60).