Of dreams fulfilled and unfulfilled. Of hopes harboured and realised, albeit slightly. Of carving a niche, but not quite. Of succeeding but failing miserably at the same time. The story of Wasim Jaffer will always run its course in contradictions and paradoxes.
For one who started watching the game in the mid-2000s, Jaffer always symbolised a batsman that Indian cricket needed at the top of the order. Solid. Gutsy. Patient. Temperamental. The passion to score the runs. Big runs that would push the opponent away from his reach. The raw silken finesse of those wrists that unabashedly flicked over an incoming delivery or the cheeky edge that sent shouts of "oohs" and "aahs" all over the rival camp. Screams that would have turned into a full-fledged celebrations if the cricketer had been sent back without a big score on the board.
But that was hardly the case. In his start-and-stop 31-match Test career, Jaffer piled on the runs against all the major teams at will. He made his debut on a wintry morning at his home ground in Mumbai against South Africa after impressing the selectors with a triple-hundred in just his second Ranji Trophy game for his city.
Under the leadership of his icon, Sachin Tendulkar, the wily player was determined to carve out the same path as the more accomplished Mumbaikar, but then what he failed to realise was that each individual comes with his own destiny and Jaffer’s was never close to Tendulkar’s. He was dropped in 2002 after a tough first spell, when he realised that he needed more mental conditioning, and his return in 2006 made one believe that he was here to stay.
Five hundreds. Two double hundreds. Eight fifties since his return. Three tons. One double ton and five half-centuries in 2007 — the year in which he was the highest run-scorer for India. Those who never followed the game intently would be surprised at these feats and even more surprised at the fact that four months later, he made his last international experience.
Dropped, just like that. No reason stated. Yes, two bad series could have been the issue, but he continued dominating the domestic circuit — the arena where he was soon to script his remaking. Maybe it was his technique. Maybe it was his timid nature that was mistaken for lack of aggression. Or maybe it was because he belonged to Mumbai — with the Indian selectors at times being accused of carrying bias against players from the particular city.
Whatever it was, the tragic hero was not going to be the victim of sympathy. He was not going to be the cricketer who could have achieved more, but did not. That was not how he was planning to end his career, and soon he made peace with his fate. The sights of the Indian opening slot slowly faded into oblivion, but he would not allow himself to follow a similar route. He loved cricket and in the age of lucrative deals that come post-retirement, Jaffer eluded them all to stay true to the game that had slowly crept in on him in the chawl in his boyhood.
“I think the love for the game more than anything is what keeps me going. That is the only thing I know if I speak about myself and I don't want to let it go very easily. I know I can become a coach or maybe (do) commentary or whatever (possible) in other capacities. (Although) I don't think it will give me as much joy as playing, so I want to keep it going as long as I can," said Jaffer in an interview with Firstpost in December.
Today, the unsung hero of Indian cricket stands testimony to the unadulterated love that comes with following one’s heart. At 40, he is far from being that aged warrior who has had enough and is waiting for his final moment in the sun. He is not that satisfied customer, who puts his feet up in the air to enjoy the reaps of his efforts. Not yet. Not so soon.
He has crossed 18,000 runs but still yearns for more. He had won the Ranji trophy with Mumbai eight times and could have easily stayed on to win some more. But instead of occupying a spot that could hamper a youngster’s progress, he chose to switch to Vidarbha, where professionals were few. Guiding a bunch of inexperienced youngsters, he helped the side script a fairy-tale in the Ranji Trophy as they won the highest honours for the very first time. Under the tutelage of Jaffer, who scored 595 runs at 54, cricket in the region was revived.
As he closed in on another record in the Irani Cup, he stands tall with 53 First-Class hundreds. His last one, has been scored with a strike-rate of over 67 against a line-up that has possibly one of the most dangerous off-spinners in these conditions. With almost all achievements under his belt, one may often wonder at what keeps players like him going?
Leander Paes at 44 is far from being done. Shivnarine Chanderpaul, aged 43, repeatedly turns out with his son for Guyana. True, players like CK Nayudu played till he was 60, but then again, it was back in the days when the focus on fitness was not at its peak. With a spring in the steps of newbies, it is imperative that these workhorses stay at the top of their fitness game on all occasions and at an age when one starts preparing for the second innings, a few keep inspiring with their youthful vigour and aspirations.
Yes, Jaffer can be called unlucky for not scripting a more memorable journey with India. But instead of brooding over his missed opportunities, he came out to the field, in a different stage, and effortlessly made it his own. He reconciled to the plans life threw at him and with sheer grit, left behind his footprints in the domestic circuit. But more importantly, he never gave up on his one love — to play cricket for as long as he could — and in that, he leaves behind a legacy for one and all.
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