Armaan Jaffer talks the way he bats, and bats the way he talks. Out there in the middle, he watches the ball cautiously, picks the most apt shot from his repertoire and executes it perfectly.
If you ask him a question, he listens to it carefully, chooses the most appropriate answer and delivers it eloquently. You can see that this 17-year-old, unassuming lad from Mumbai has been groomed to be what he is and where he is: at the Under-19 World Cup and facing the media.
Jaffer made a useful contribution in the second match against New Zealand after India lost five wickets for 165. In the quarterfinal against Namibia on Saturday, he made 64 off 55 balls to put India on course for a massive total. Coming at number five, and given the match situation, these are good numbers. But from the batting prodigy that he has been, you will have much loftier — sometimes unrealistic – expectations.
“The top-order is in good form. They are making good runs,” he says. “So I am getting to bat only after 30-35 overs. So whatever I am making is alright. I am contributing to the team total, which is good.”
Of course, Jaffer can’t complain. Getting to bat at whichever position and stage of the match is far better than not getting to bat at all. Or play even. And barely one and a half months ago, there was a very credible prospect of him missing out on the World Cup. What had happened was this: At the Challenger Trophy in October, which pretty much served as a selection trial for the Under-19 team, Jaffer turned in scores of 54-ball 25, 17-ball 1 and 72-ball 59 for India Green to miss the cut for the tri-nation series in Kolkata. The hopes of playing in the World Cup were sinking. He was back to playing the Cooch Behar Trophy.
“When I wasn’t selected after the Challenger Trophy, I was disappointed. Then I had a discussion with dad and my coach Vinod Raghvan. They said I needed to keep making runs because Cooch Behar was the only option I was left with to make the team. They said, ‘Forget about the selection process. Just go out there and make as many runs as you can. Only that can pressurise the selectors and they will notice your performance.’ So that was my aim.”
Executing plans to a T
Jaffer carried out the plan to a T. In six matches between November 5 to December 21, Jaffer piled up 1059 runs at an average of 151. It included three consecutive double centuries — 224 against MP, 223 against Orissa and 238-ball 213 against Karnataka — after a 174-run knock against Tripura. It’s a scarcely believable feat, and in recent memory, only Cheteshwar Pujara’s three triple centuries in one month in 2008 surpasses it.
The junior selection committee was almost compelled to acknowledge it and named him in the World Cup squad.
He is mighty good at making run mountains. This we know. But to summon those when time was slipping away and his back was against the wall, shows a combination of such precocious talent and temperament.
“There was no next-time scene. I had to come into the World Cup squad this time only. So I was thinking that since I haven’t made the team, I have to make a lot of runs. Looking back wasn’t an option. If I had made 200 runs in the previous innings, no matter, I had to score another 200 in the next,” he says.
However, even in the middle of that surreal form he wasn’t quite sure if he had done enough. He was seeking safety in numbers, but never felt fully secure.
“I had already scored two double hundreds when the Sri Lanka tri-series team was announced. I was not in the team. Then I scored the third double century, but even then I was not confident I would make it. There was no room for complacency or satisfaction,” he said.
His double hundreds came at a good strike rate, too, and included plenty of boundaries and big hits. It helped dispel the myth that he is a great red ball player, but not so good with the white ball. It’s a perception that he has consciously tried to change in the last three years or so.
“The cricket that is played at Mumbai under-14 level is two-day, three-day. There are no one-days or T20s for kids. So that’s what I have been playing since my childhood. While my technique is the same as it used to be, mentally I am also focusing on white ball cricket. Back then I hadn’t played with white ball at all. I focus on strike rotation and big shots,” he says.
Scooping it up
Does he practise AB de Villiers style scoop as well? “I do, at the nets. Kabhi kabhi.”
This practice will come in handy when Jaffer plays the IPL for Kings XI Punjab this season. He was picked for his base price of Rs 10 lakh in the auction on Sunday. It’s nothing compared to what his teammate Rishabh Pant (Rs 1.9 crore) fetched, but it will give the Bandra lad who grew up in a kholi a semblance of financial security. And knowledge.
“It means a lot. Because it’s a good exposure, playing the IPL. Playing with international players from other countries as well as from our country, is a good thing. I will try to pick Glenn Maxwell’s brains and other big players’ as well, even those from rival teams. I will approach them and take in as much knowledge as I can,” he says.
At the moment, however, the focus is on the job at hand. There are five guys in the squad who were picked in the auction on Saturday, but there were no celebrations in the team hotel.
“No party last night. The whole concentration is on this tournament. We did discuss the auction, yes, but Rahul sir has instructed that we don’t talk much about the IPL. This team is not going to be together after this, so the concentration is fully on this tournament. This time will not come back.”