A few years ago, Wasim Jaffer received the most brutal reality check of his life. His employer Indian Oil had decategorized him after he had missed an entire domestic season due to injury. It was time, they felt, that he returned to workplace as a regular employer without the privileges of a sportsman. Jaffer pleaded his case with his bosses. He felt he had few years more under him to play but Indian Oil had a policy which stated that if a sportsperson wasn’t playing, he will be decategorized and would have to work like any other employee.
A desperate Jaffer made a few calls to few state associations, He spoke to friends checking whether they can hire his services for coming domestic season. Nothing much happened. It was the summer of 2016, life in cricket seemed to have hit a dead-end.
“There were not many teams who were keen to have me despite being the highest run getter in the Ranji Trophy. So many teams said no which was very eye opening for me,” Jaffer recalls the moment when he felt the respect he had earned over the years didn’t have any meaning if he wasn’t scoring runs in the present. The past, and his reputation, had almost vaporised in thin air.
It was then that Vidarbha took him as a professional player and Jaffer didn’t charge any money. No professional fees, thank you for allowing me to play, was his message. Jaffer needed Vidarbha more than Vidarbha needed Jaffer.
He knew only one thing could hold him back: his fitness. In the solitary walks in England last year where Jaffer turns up every year to play minor league cricket, he took a decision that was to change his career around. At 40, Jaffer called his trainer, told his need to get fitter and a detailed plan was crafted to ensure his goal was achieved.
The physios kept monitoring those minor niggles that keep erupting at his age and a proper diet regime was followed. No junk food and eat early became the mantra. And lots of time at the gym.
“Eating timing was bad, I have now stopped eating after 6 pm. When I used to go to England, the food and weather used to affect me. You usually end up eating a lot of junk food there. This season aada-teda khana I stopped, like pizzas and burgers. My dinner ends at 6pm,” he explains.
His appetite might have decreased but his hunger for marathon knocks hasn’t. A fit Jaffer has comeback much stronger and has been a demonic presence for the opposition teams who are almost helpless how to stop him.
On Thursday, on the third day against Uttarakhand, Jaffer slammed 206, his fourth big hundred of the season. He is just 31 runs short of the magical 1000 runs mark in Ranji Trophy this season. The drives kept flowing, his wrist magically manoeuvring the ball to all parts of the ground.
Jaffer explained how fitness became part of his life though it had never played a major part in his life before. He wasn’t the types who dealt with dumbbells and push-ups, instead preferring spending as much time as possible on the field with bat in his hand. But all that was about to change. He kicked in more hours at the gym, strengthening his core with the physio always hovering over him.
His knock enabled Vidarbha to take a massive 204 runs lead. “Jab aap run banate ho tab aapke respect hai, jab nahi banate ho it’s not there (when you score runs, you get respect. Else it’s not there). I know this because I have seen teams were reluctant to have me. The moment you flop in three innings, same people will say that age has caught up, umar hogayi hai. It’s only runs that count,” Jaffer said after the day’s play.
At least in coming months, no one dare to even think on those lines. The runs are flooding in to say the least. At stumps, Vidarbha were 559 for 6 with Akshay Wadkar missing out on a ton after the overnight centurion Sanjay Ramaswamy was dismissed for 141. Jaffer and his younger teammamtes contribution has meant that Vidarbha has one foot in the semi-finals.
As dusk descended in Nagpur, his former team mate and the current national selector Jatin Paranjpe met Jaffer. “Thak gaya hoga na,”(you must be tired, right?). Nothing else needed to be said. Both laughed. Jaffer might not do late dinners anymore; he dines on runs these days.
Brief scores: Uttarakhand 355 vs Vidarbha 559/6 (Wasim Jaffer 206, Sanjay Ramaswamy 141, A Wadkar 98; D K Sharma 2/87).