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Jaffer — a shining jewel for Mumbai

G. Viswanath

He has marshalled the team with calm demeanour

— Photo: K. Pichumani

STEADY HANDS: Wasim Jaffer has been leading Mumbai in a quiet and efficient way.

Mumbai: Wasim Jaffer has sported Mumbai’s lion crown crest with dignity, pride and played with passion for the team for a dozen long years, scoring close to 7000 runs with 21 centuries, 30 fifties and latching on to 102 catches. Appointed captain for the first time this season the languid-looking Jaffer has lead his team in the Ranji Trophy Super League, quarterfinal and semifinal in a quiet and efficient way.

From next Monday he will engage his team against an aggressive and ambitious lot from Uttar Pradesh at Uppal, Hyderabad and covet the prestigious title. He has been part of Mumbai’s Ranji Trophy triumphs five times since his debut year in 1996-97 under the captaincy of Sanjay Manjrekar, Sameer Dighe, Paras Mhambrey, Sairaj Bahutule and Amol Muzumdar

Early days

Raised on the turf wickets of the city and in an environment that encouraged the gifted, Jaffer has flourished right from the time he began hitting ball at the Anjuman Islam School nets and in the highly competitive inter-school tournaments.

Once the ambitious right-hander enrolled as member of the National Cricket Club, Cross Maidan, where former India opener Sudhir Naik became his mentor, Jaffer has not looked back.

Remaining with the Club since 1994-95, Jaffer has demonstrated utmost loyalty and advanced in his career with remarkable success. Naik stuck his neck out on Friday with an emphatic statement that Jaffer has been Mumbai’s best opener for close to half a century giving the top place to Sunil Gavaskar.

He made 314 in his second match against Saurashtra and with Sulakshan Kulkarni (239) raised 459 before the first wicket went down.

Fits and starts

It has been a case of fits and starts for Jaffer while playing for India though. Jaffer’s tendency to relax after a big effort in Test cricket has been his undoing. “That’s his fault, he would make a big century and fail in 6 or 7 innings. I was surprised he did not score runs in Australia because the wickets there encourage back foot players. “I regard Jaffer as one of the top three openers in India. Sehwag (Virender) and Gambhir (Gautam) are doing extremely well. So he can bat at No. 3. Jaffer is a quality player, he has all the shots in the book.

“If he had grabbed all his chances since 2000, he should have by now 70 odd Tests under his belt. He’s a quality player,” said Naik.

With Tamil Nadu’s Murali Vijay good show against Australia at Nagpur, Jaffer’s name is unlikely to come to the mind of the selectors in the immediate future, but on his part, Jaffer has displayed the enthusiasm and class amassing close to 1357 runs in 11 first class matches this season.

He has also been retained in the lower end of the BCCI contract and that should be a solace to the opener who himself should be sore that he did not make the most of the chances Down Under last summer.

That apart, observers in Mumbai were curious as to how he would deal with captaincy of a team, that’s a far cry from the 1970s and 80s.

Good beginning

Naik had sounded out the Mumbai selectors three years ago that Jaffer should be seen as a potential candidate for captaincy. With a handful of newcomers and a few just into their second or third year, Jaffer began the season with a resounding win against Rajasthan and Gujarat.

Fortunately, debutant seamer Dhawal Kulkarni and batsman Ajinkya Rahane took the responsibility and showed the way. After a huge hiccup against Saurashtra, Jaffer’s team bounced back.

Like the way he applies himself while batting, he has marshalled the team with calm demeanour and positioning at second slip. He admitted making an error of judgment at the toss in the quarterfinal against Himachal at Ahmedabad, but Abhishek Nayar’s six wicket spell and his own superbly constructed century saved the side.

With Sachin Tendulkar and Zaheer Khan back from the semifinal, he has two players to provide thrust in batting and bowling. Jaffer has never let his team down in the final: He made 58 against Delhi in the day-night final at Gwalior in 96-97, 32 and 55 against Hyderabad in 1999-2000, 83 and 98 against Tamil Nadu in 2002-03, 133 against Tamil Nadu in 2003-04 and 112 and 53 against Bengal in 2006-07.

So at Hyderabad, he would make his innings count. In his first match against Uttar Pradesh in 1996-97, Jaffer made 106 at Lucknow.

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