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Thursday, February 27, 2020

Ranji Trophy final: Run machines Cheteshwar Pujara, Wasim Jaffer turn fanboys

Ranji Trophy Final: They play for different teams but are united in their hunger for runs and the ability to bat time. Pujara and Jaffer spell out what makes the other special.

Written by Devendra Pandey | New Delhi | Updated: February 2, 2019 8:46:49 am
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Pujara on Jaffer: ‘When it comes to playing on the rise, Wasim bhai is as good as Kohli’

I had seen Wasim bhai on TV before I met him for the first time when I joined Indian Oil. I started watching him closely, how he prepares before he goes to bat, how much time he takes before taking stance, and how he scores runs. It’s very unfortunate that he hasn’t played many international games.

I never tried to copy him as the flow and the style he had in his batting made him a original, one of the best in our country.

A particular style of his play has always fascinated me. Not just a shot but more the style: Those on-the-up shots. He is probably the best I have seen. On the rise, be it against a fast bowler or a spinner. They were the good-length balls that most batsmen would defend or push, but Wasim bhai, at his peak, could play it to covers or punch it to mid-on. Virat Kohli too has a similar strength and Wasim bhai is probably the best I have seen, alongside Kohli, among those who play on the rise. Initially, I remember tying to copy it but it was very difficult unless the pitch was very flat. He could do it on most pitches — turning or seaming tracks.

I am not a person who pre-judges people without even talking to them once and the moment I met Wasim bhai, I realised that he was very down to earth. Very approachable, and always ready to share his vast knowledge. Sometimes there is a bit of hesitancy when you talk to a player who has played for India but it wasn’t the case with Wasim bhai. He is a very simple person. We would talk about each other’s games and I would ask him for his feedback. I valued his opinions.

heteshwar Pujara plays a shot against Karnataka during the Ranji Trophy semifinal match in Bengaluru. (PTI Photo/File)

What we have in common is our appetite for playing big knocks. He also doesn’t like throwing his wicket away. Abhi bhi nahi dete hain. His hunger is same though his body has changed. You can’t get Wasim bhai out easily and that is what I took from him — his mental strength.

Many a time I and Wasim bhai have had partnerships while playing for Indian Oil. Ajinkya Rahane was also there, we had a strong batting line-up. In fact there was Rohit Sharma too. I remember once I was batting and Wasim bhai was yet to come. A player said ‘arre yeh idhar hai, Wasim bhai andar hai, inko jitna run banana hai banane do, hamari jab batting aayega tab dekha jayega’. (He is here, Wasim is inside. Let them make as many runs as they wish. We shall do our bit when wet bat). Team gave up, there was a fear. Ek kauf tha. (Fear).

Many a time when we were in a partnership, the next batsman would sleep in the dressing room! We used to bat session by session and we batted for whole two days many times.

Wasim bhai’s commitment is phenomenal. At this age, scoring such big runs is not at all easy. I love his batting, he bats for hours. How many runs he has scored but you will see him doing knocking sessions or batting in the nets. He keeps on working hard.

It doesn’t matter if he made 10 or 200, his body language remains the same. He is a very balanced man. You won’t see him under pressure because he is confident about his capabilities.

The two shots which I always feel I should have from Wasim bhai is playing on the rise. And his lofted shots against spinners is amazing. He stays in the crease and if fielders are within the circle he effortlessly lofts it – as if he is playing a drive but it will go for a six.

He plays shots without any risk. Someone like Virender Sehwag, his shots had risk but in case with Wasim bhai there is less risk and more runs. Jab tak Wasim bhai is at the crease the opposition is always in trouble. The moment he gets out, it’s a big relief for the whole team. The one innings which I like the most of his was in Chennai; he slammed 300 and he didn’t give us the chance to make a comeback.

As a bowling unit you keep thinking where to stop him and his runs but it’s very tough because he takes minimum risk. Usually bowlers look for right length but in Wasim’s case it will be very difficult. He plays all-round. If bowlers bowl short of length, he will flick it.

I have seen many times when bowler has complimented Wasim bhai’s flick shot. “Kya shot, Wasim bhai”. Hopefully, we get him out early in the Ranji final but it’s not going to be easy.

I remember only time he would get frustrated was with the way his own bowlers bowled. In Indian Oil games. We would stand in slips and vent. “This bowler has so much talent but deemag he nahi hai. (But no brains). Those are the only times I have seen him frustrated. Otherwise, he always remains calm and composed.


Jaffer on Pujara: ‘If I am asked which batsman I would like to bat to save my life, it has to be Pujara’

Wasim jaffer, cricketer Wasim Jaffer, Ranji trophy, VCA Stadium, Sports news, Indian Express               Wasim Jaffer. (Source: PTI)

I remember in 2006, we went to play a KSCA (Karnataka State Cricket Association) tournament when I was the captain of Indian Oil. I was also part of the Indian team then. We played against Assam (it was 90 overs in the first innings and 45 overs in the second), and Pujara batted some 80-85 overs and got out on 99. Some of our players asked him how he was feeling and he said, “I am not getting that feeling of satisfaction that one gets after playing a good innings”.

We all laughed because he had batted for more than 80 overs and almost hit a hundred, but was not satisfied!

We would soon find out why. The next game, he hit a double hundred. We asked him again, and he replied, ‘Yeah, it feels a bit better.’ Next game, he makes 130. He is a rare player who isn’t happy with hundreds; he wants 150s, 200s, 300s. That is something remarkable.

Nothing has changed even now. He still turns up to bat for Indian Oil in local competitions with the same intensity. So many youngsters these days pick and choose games, whether to get serious or not, but they should learn from Pujara. He never relaxes when he bats. This habit is missing from the youngsters. Pujara has never thrown his wicket away in any competition.

I had seen Cheteshwar bat briefly for India U-19 on TV before he was picked by Indian Oil. Those who had watched him would say that he is a typical old-school batsman — he doesn’t hit it aerially. Amit Dani and Mandar Phadke (both from Indian Oil) had come back impressed after he hit a hundred against them in a Ranji game. They said it didn’t matter what they bowled, how much they sledged – he doesn’t care.

The thing I liked about him was his desire to bat for long hours. Rare in today’s time. He is the last with that style. No question of there being another batsman like him in the future. It feels nice when you see a batsman who doesn’t like throwing his wicket away.

He had to grind his way to reach here; nothing came easy. Ranji Trophy, Duleep Trophy, India A – he has been through everything, scoring tons and tons of runs. He and Ajinkya Rahane are players who came up very tough. I respect them for that – the struggle, the hard work, the seriousness they show when playing any match. Youngsters should learn from them.

In Tests, Pujara isn’t likely to do anything out of the box. He is the ideal player for any team: all can’t go and just attack. He brings great value to the team and one of the main reasons we won in Australia was Pujara. He tired out all bowlers.

Remember the context. In England, he had failed in county cricket before the Test series, but didn’t give up. He kept working hard through it to bounce back.

If I am asked which batsman I would like to bat to save my life, it has to be Pujara. He will not give away his wicket.

A bowling unit can’t make plans for Pujara. Very few loopholes. As opponents, we can hope that some very good ball gets him or he makes a mistake. Tomorrow if Virat Kohli comes to play Ranji Trophy, what plan will you have for him? You can plan only for the first 15-20 balls, after that if he makes some mistake, then he will get out. Same is the case with Pujara. He has the patience and likes to bat all day.

Post 2008, he was part of the IPL and then suffered setbacks with two back-to-back injuries. Whenever he came for Indian Oil, I told him not to worry. I have never spoken about his batting technique; his father is there to help him. I felt sometimes he was trying too hard to fit in the one-day or T20 circuit. I have advised him that he should aim to play 100 Tests. I remember telling him that, “Take this (wish to fit in ODIs) out of your mind; else neither this (Tests) nor that would remain.” Told him, go for 7,000-odd runs in Tests.

It seems he has accepted it now. It is good that he is focused on Tests. The biggest challenge for today’s cricketers is that one has to fit in all three formats. But I always feel the respect earned by cricketer is always by playing Test cricket.

His opponents respect him as he has come up the hard way. No offence meant at Prithvi Shaw, he has been fast-tracked into the Indian team. He hasn’t done the grind. Pujara and Rahane would score 800 to 900 runs every year but were not picked; they still persevered. Pujara was tagged a flat-track bully, that’s not his fault. He was born and brought up in Rajkot, and can only bat on the wickets served to him. However, he has proved himself by scoring runs around the world.

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