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Jaffer is good for Mumbai and good for India.
by Partab Ramchand
Dec 06, 2007
Ever since the new millennium the focus has been on the Big Four of Indian batting. Only a player of stand-out qualities has been able to shift the focal point away from Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly and Venkatsai Laxman.

Virender Sehwag through sheer force of his swashbuckling approach made one sit up and take notice and for some time the Nawab of Najafgarh was the most talked about cricketer in the land while making the transition from a Tendulkar clone to a superstar in his own right. These days however with Sehwag going through a lean phase the focus is likely to shift to Wasim Jaffer, less dynamic but much more solid and straighter in his technique. In fact Jaffer mixes style with substance and through fluency in strokeplay, soundness in approach and big scores on a consistent basis he has transformed himself from a cricketer who was more out than in the side into one of the batting bulwarks even in this lustrous line up.

Coming from the Bombay school of batting Jaffer’s approach comes as no surprise. It is a school that has produced the likes of Vijay Merchant, Rusi Modi, Polly Umrigar, Vijay Manjrekar, Dilip Sardesai, Ajit Wadekar, Sunil Gavaskar, Dilip Vengsarkar, Sanjay Manjrekar and of course Tendulkar.

A quick glance at the above names and it can be seen how much Indian cricket is indebted to the Bombay school of batting 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 these are not enough to win matches. Here batsmen are thought to play long innings, the kind of knock that drives bowlers to desperation and captains to frustration. With the triple qualities of dedication, determination and concentration the batsmen are able to run up scores of 200 and 300 which take 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. Half of the top ten individual scores in the Ranji Trophy have been notched up by batsmen from this school. And the initiation can sometimes be very early. In Jaffer’s case for example he hit an unbeaten 314 in only his second first class game.

It was this feat that marked Jaffer out for great things. A string of notable scores saw him 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 that he continued to notch up around the domestic circuit. Jaffer obviously believes in the age old adage of letting the bat do 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.

Jaffer’s never say die qualities now surfaced. He always had the confidence that he was good enough to play for India and worked hard to iron out his flaws. The result was another comeback against England in 2005-06. At Nagpur he had a grand double of 81 and 100 and the transformation in his batting approach was complete. By now he had become the Jaffer that we all admire these days. All the qualities of the Bombay 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. There was also an element of power in his batting when he pulled effortlessly to mid wicket. Above all though there was the solidity in defence and straight bat technique that won the admiration of the purists.

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 at St John’s in June last year. India were 130 runs behind on the first innings in the first Test against West Indies and it was shortly before lunch on the third day. By stumps he had diligently worked his way to 113 being the leading light of the fightback. 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 Dravid. He had more modest successes in the Test series but it was this knock that saw Jaffer hailed as the technician supreme, the true successor to Gavaskar. It also meant that he could now be given top billing in the marquee along with the Big Four.

From now there was no looking back for Jaffer. And as is well known over the last year he has scored Test centuries in South Africa, Bangladesh and of course now another double hundred in India. That he did not get a Test century in England this year will no doubt rankle this perfectionist but with two half centuries in six innings he certainly wasn’t a failure.

Jaffer’s average till the unhappy first phase of his career was 20. It is now approaching 40. A first class career average of virtually 50 underlines his approach to batting, his insatiable appetite for runs, his impeccable technique and his wristy strokeplay. Jaffer can only go from strength to strength and that is good news for the Indian team.

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