Former Indian opener Wasim Jaffer recollected the times when he used to go and watch Sachin Tendulkar score tons in school cricket. Wasim Jaffer also revealed the hard grind he had to put in to make it into the Mumbai team.
Wasim Jaffer shared his views about the Mumbai cricket culture and how he made it big at the domestic level to Ravichandran Ashwin in the latter's show 'The Formula For Success'.
Ashwin asked Wasim Jaffer how his interest developed for the game, to which the latter replied that watching the likes of Sachin Tendulkar and Vinod Kambli play school cricket had ignited the fire in him.
"I was lucky that I started my cricket in Mumbai. While I was very young, Sachin was coming up. He had played Ranji Trophy at that time, he was a very big thing. I used to go and watch his school matches, my brother used to take me there. I haven't seen anybody who used to get so many people to the ground to watch them.
Even if it was a practice or a school game, people used to just stand and watch him. Obviously he used to score tons after tons even in school cricket. I remember he got out on duck and that was a headline. So, I was lucky that I used to watch him and Vinod Kambli regularly."
"I used to go and watch lot of corporate games. People like Dilip Vengsarkar, Sanjay Manjrekar, Ravi Shastri and even people from outside like Kiran More and Nayan Mongia used to play those matches, the standard was so high. I always wanted to play cricket, so I wanted to join those players."
Wasim Jaffer highlighted the arduous journey he had to take to get noticed in the Mumbai cricket circles.
"Getting into the Ranji probables for Mumbai at that time was a big thing. That's how my interest developed and the Mumbai culture was so strong that somebody scoring a 70-80 or even a hundred didn't mean much, unless you keep knocking the doors with big scores. Getting out after scoring a 100-120 was not a big thing, you need to keep scoring big runs time and again.
Then only you will get noticed over a period of a season or two seasons. So, the upbringing was very tough and that is why Mumbai cricket is so good. Hearing about Gavaskar and watching Sachin Tendulkar playing alongside Manjrekar and Kambli, it was an amazing journey."
Wasim Jaffer spoke about the big corporate teams in Mumbai cricket and all the international stars who played for them. He admitted that this corporate rivalry did affect the selections for the Mumbai team.
"Yes, it did. Tata and Sungrace Mafatlal were the 2 big corporate companies who were winning the tournaments while I was growing up.
Tata had Ravi Shastri, Dilip Vengsarkar, Kiran More, Raju Kulkarni, Jatin Paranjpe, Abey Kuruvilla, Sairaj Bahutule, Shishir Hattangadi, Lalchand Rajput, Paddy Shivalkar.
And they were playing against Sungrace Mafatlal who had Sandeep Patil, Sachin Tendulkar, Vinod Kambli, Zubin Bharucha, Salil Ankola, Atul Bedade, Nayan Mongia, Venkatapathy Raju.
That was the competition. Air India would have Sanjay Manjrekar, Chandrakant Pandit and Mahindra would have somebody else."
Wasim Jaffer added that when one of the guys from those teams became a captain or selector, it definitely helped the players from that team to get a head-start for the Mumbai team selection.
"So when those guys became captain or somebody from that corporate became a selector, then definitely somebody would get a choice. I remember most of the players would want to play for Tata or want to play for Sungrace. They were like Manchester United or Man City or FC Barcelona. If you get into that circle, you had a good chance of climbing up the ladder. Your performances got noticed easily, so it did matter a lot."
Wasim Jaffer on his cricketing journey
Ravichandran Ashwin asked Wasim Jaffer how the latter made it big despite so much competition in the Mumbai ranks. Wasim Jaffer replied that he started with school cricket just like some of the stalwarts like Sachin Tendulkar, and youngsters like Prithvi Shaw, Sarfaraz Khan and Shreyas Iyer.
"I started with school cricket. School cricket obviously is also very important. All good players like Sachin, Vinod, myself, Amol Mazumdar and the players like Prithvi Shaw, Sarfaraz Khan, Shreyas Iyer have all played for good schools.
So, if you score runs in Harris Shield or such tournaments you get into the Mumbai under-14 or under-16 teams. My journey started with Mumbai under-16. I scored lots of runs in school cricket. I scored a 400."
Wasim Jaffer talked about his disappointment at not being picked for the Mumbai team after scoring a couple of 60s or 70s and how he bounced back from that setback.
"There was a selection tournament. I remember I scored couple of 60s or 70s and then I didn't get selected. I was crying because I wanted to play for Mumbai. My family said that you need to score more runs if you want to play for Mumbai. Next season in that tournament I scored 206 runs in the first game, carrying my bat through."
Wasim Jaffer revealed how the double-century gave him the breakthrough and said that he never looked back thereafter.
"Obviously I got selected for the Mumbai under-16 and then the journey started. You keep scoring runs and then Sudhir Naik got me to play for his club, National Cricket Club. We had 6-7 players who were playing for Mumbai at that time including Nilesh Kulkarni and Zaheer Khan. So, I got an opportunity to learn my trade. That was the stepping stone for me."
Wasim Jaffer replied in the affirmative when Ravichandran Ashwin asked him if this stiff competition and forcing the players to score big runs, rather than using a short cut to get into the team, had helped Mumbai cricket retain its sanctity.
"At least in my time, that was the system. If you score 60-70 and get selected for Mumbai and then you don't do well in your first couple of games, you are out for good. So, it is better to come through hard way, you value those chances."
Wasim Jaffer also reminisced about the pressure he felt after having failed to score big runs in his first Ranji encounter and how his triple hundred in the next match helped him seal his place in the team.
"I remember I got out for 18 in my first Ranji Trophy game. So, when we were going to Saurashtra by train I told my brother that if I don't score runs in this game, I don't know what will happen. Luckily, I ended up getting a triple hundred in that game and that cemented my place."
Wasim Jaffer represented India in 31 Test matches, and scored 1944 runs including 5 centuries. He is regarded as the doyen of first-class cricket in India.
Wasim Jaffer has amassed 19410 runs in 260 first-class matches. These runs have come at an impressive average of 50.67 and include 57 centuries.