For close to two decades, Wasim Jaffer and Mumbai cricket have been synonymous with each other. A lot has transpired during that period, both on and off the field, a plethora of stars have emerged and then faded away into the twilight and a once indomitable team has entered a phase of transition and flux.
Throughout it all, the image of Jaffer nonchalantly flicking a ball through mid-wicket with an air of aristocracy has remained a reassuring sight.
But not anymore.
In a tiny corner room of Khar Gymkhana on Friday, the 37-year-old right-hander officially announced that he was cutting his ties with Mumbai cricket, and that he was moving on. Come October, we will see the unfamiliar, and almost unimaginable, sight of Jaffer not donning the Mumbai cap and instead turning up for Vidarbha in the Ranji Trophy. But the longstanding mainstay for the multiple-time domestic champions insists that he will never be able to shed the tag of being a Mumbai player, regardless of who he represents. And also that he was bidding adieu to the lion crest with a heavy heart.
“I will be known as Mumbai player wherever I play. It is a different feeling to leave Mumbai after playing here for so many years. Nineteen years is a long time. It is difficult to move on after playing at one place for almost two decades,” Jaffer says.
Fans, teammates and opponents alike have always marveled at the extra time that Jaffer seemed to have while he was playing his array of shots. Never did he seem rushed. Never did he play an ugly shot. Never did he look out-of-sync with his naturally elegant self. And on Friday, he was as measured as always with his answers, never looking hurried or harried.
Jaffer admitted to have been repeatedly approached for a move from Mumbai ever since he lost his place in the Indian team back in 2008. But even though some of the offers were tempting, the veteran wasn’t keen on turning his back on his home team. “I didn’t want to leave then. But at this stage of career I will not like for a talented youngster to sit out because of me. Sometimes you take things for granted with your home association. I feel I still have a few seasons of cricket left in me and I want to challenge myself,” he says.
When you’ve plied your trade in domestic cricket for as long as Jaffer has it is inevitable that you will have to deal with change. But even as cricket transformed into a bolder and more edgier sport with cricketers adapting to the new demands, Jaffer remained an old-school technician, preferring to play the game at his own pace. “Time has changed, cricket has changed, quality has not changed but cricket is played at a much faster pace. People are not scared to play shots. When I came in we were always taught to play along the ground and build innings. Bat and bat whole day,” he says. “The quality of spin bowling has certainly gone down because of the shorter format. You don’t see a classical spinner anymore.The speedometer probably is encouraging bowlers to bowl faster and swing bowling has gone down in standard,” he points out.
Jaffer has also witnessed significant change around him in the Mumbai dressing-room. He’s also played under captains from different eras, ranging from Sanjay Manjrekar to Suryakumar Yadav. He walked into a side filled with match-winners but walks away at a time Mumbai is desperately in pursuit of their next generation of game-changers. “They always only thought about winning. Winning Ranji Trophies, I learnt about personality, building games,” he recalls.
Out of the 40 times that Mumbai have won the Ranji Trophy, Jaffer has got his hand on eight, a few even as captain. And it was while opening for his home team that he created a reputation of being a marathon man and even got picked for India, eventually appearing in 31 Tests and 2 ODIs. “The closest I came for a recall post that was in 2012. But there were times earlier where despite scoring some 2000 runs in the season, I was ignored. But I don’t blame anyone,” he explains.
With Vidarbha, Jaffer hopes to bring his expertise into play and help the competitive team achieve their goals. But he’s aware that his body is not in the shape it used to be during his peak. Only last year, he missed out on a majority of Ranji matches owing to a knee injury.
He’s equally realistic when asked about the legacy he leaves behind. In many ways, he remained an unsung hero, maybe a reluctant one.
Despite having been the batting behemoth and talisman of Mumbai cricket, he admits that his contribution would always get eclipsed by the achievements of his other more high-profile teammates.
Asked whether he expected the Mumbai Cricket Association (MCA) to hand him a grand farewell, Jaffer resisted a grin before saying, “I’m not Sachin Tendulkar.”