Wasim Jaffer quit as coach of the Uttarakhand cricket team on Feb 9 after he was accused of being communal. Big guns of Indian cricket, with few exceptions, remained silent
Wasim Jaffer, one of the luminaries of Indian cricket, quit as coach of the Uttarakhand cricket team on February 9, after he was accused of being communal in his approach to managing the team by officials of the Cricket Association of Uttarakhand, the state cricket board. His appointment as head coach had been made in June last year.
The allegations were that Jaffer favoured certain co-religionists in matters of team selection; that he had invited or allowed a maulvi into the bio-secure bubble the team was in; and that he had suggested a change in the team slogan. In a virtual media briefing held the day after his resignation, Jaffer convincingly rebutted all the allegations. The absurdity of the charges make them unworthy of extended description.
The point at which we must begin, however, is who on earth Jaffer is, since there is nothing really to recommend the people who made the accusations. As an opening batsman, Jaffer played 31 Tests for India, scoring close to 2,000 runs at an average of just above 34. Let us leave aside his occasional trundling of the arm.
But what Jaffer is really known for is his phenomenal performance and longevity in domestic cricket. To begin with, Jaffer was around in the domestic scene for almost a quarter of a century, during which he picked up all of 10 Ranji Trophy titles. Eight of them were with the Mumbai squad, which he represented for around 20 years. Over this period, he played 129 games for his side.
In the 2015-16 season, he moved to the not-so-fancied Vidarbha side, for which he played 29 Ranji matches. That adds up to 156 matches, the most played by any player in the storied history of the competition. He played five seasons for his new team and picked up two more Ranji titles, in 2017-18 and 2018-19, back-to-back. Those were the only two Ranji titles Vidarbha have ever won.
But, quite obviously, Jaffer did not survive for almost a quarter of a century just because he was there for the ride. In his Ranji career, he scored 12,038 runs and was the only batsman to amass over 10,000. At 9,202, his one-time team-mate Amol Muzumdar clocks in at second place, almost 3,000 runs behind. Jaffer also scored the highest number of centuries in the championship — 40. Apart from these gargantuan feats, Jaffer also got the most runs ever in the Irani Trophy, 1,294; and in the Duleep Trophy, 2,545.
This, leaving out the shorter formats of the game, adds up to quite a career it would appear to most people, especially if you include the two double hundreds he’s got for India in Tests. Jaffer is also the only Indian opener to get a century in South Africa.
So, this is the man who is now in the spotlight. Uttarakhand Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat ordered an enquiry into the incident on 15 February. But as citizens of this benighted country, we all know what that means. If we are lucky, a report will transpire. It may not at all. If we are very lucky, we’ll get an unbiased report. It could also be a cover-up.
But let’s think of this from another angle. There’s this man who has played more Ranji Trophy cricket than anyone else, apart from a hell of a lot of domestic cricket in other tournaments, across formats. He’s represented the country in Tests and One-Day Internationals. He’s not just a private individual — he’s an outsized public figure.
In a quarter of a century and more, he has never been accused of anything resembling communal behaviour or any proclivity towards favouring his co-religionists in public matters — in this case, anything connected to the game of cricket. Again, he’s not been just a journeyman. He captained the Mumbai side for four seasons and was for a while the batting coach of the Kings XI Punjab team. If the bizarre charges of the penny-ante officials of the Uttarakhand cricket establishment had any truth to them, surely similar accusations would have surfaced in the long years Jaffer has been in cricketing life.
Which brings us to the conclusion that some kind of a bumptious non-entity with an axe to grind wanted Jaffer out of the way. But what is the saddest part of the entire episode is that only a small number of those Jaffer played with have come forward in his defence. There have been a number of players who’ve shown solidarity, but the big guns have been silent, with the stellar exception of former India captain Anil Kumble.
Sachin Tendulkar, Board of Control for Cricket in India chief Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid and others who’ve played with him decided that discretion was some part of valour. Is it a question of the stakes involved? Makes you wonder.