'Winning even one Ranji Trophy title is a great achievement and to win 10 out of 10 is absolutely amazing.'
The legend of Wasim Jaffer continues to grow.
When Vidarbha won its second Ranji Trophy title in a row after beating Saurashtra in the final on February 8, 2019, the 40-year-old batsman notched up an amazing record.
It was the 10th time that Wasim had been part of a team that won India's premier domestic competition.
Incredibly, he has never finished on the losing side in title clashes.
Wasim was a member of the Mumbai team from 1996-1997 to 2012-2013, a side that won eight Ranji championships.
A knee injury saw him miss the entire 2016-17 season and he was struggling to find a team for the next season.
His cricketing future looked bleak. His employers Indian Oil had 'decategorised' him and wanted the former India opener to work at a desk in an office rather than employ his considerable talent on a cricket ground.
A quick chat with his former Mumbai coach Chandrakant Pandit saw Wasim get a career-resucitating offer from Vidarbha for the 2017-2018 season. Wasim did not charge Vidarbha a rupee for his services for the season.
Having placed extra emphasis on his fitness, Wasim made an immediate impact for Vidarbha, scoring 595 runs in 9 games in the 2017-18 season at an average of 54, playing a pivotal role in the team's title triumph.
The following season was even better as he amassed 1,037 runs in 11 matches, hitting four centuries and two fifties, helping Vidarbha successfully retain its Ranji title.
Wasim Jaffer is the only batsman to score over 1,000 runs in a Ranji season for the second time in his career.
He is also the first player to cross the landmark 11,000 runs in Ranji Trophy history.
"To win the Ranji Trophy is getting harder and harder because a lot of teams, who were not as strong before, have developed and become very strong teams," Wasim tells Rediff.com's Harish Kotian. Part 1 of a two part interview:
You have now won 10 Ranji Trophy titles. How big is it an achievement for you personally?
I feel very good winning 10 Ranji titles, no doubt. Winning even one Ranji Trophy title is a great achievement and to win 10 out of 10 is absolutely amazing.
Earlier, you successfully defended the Ranji Trophy with Mumbai, one of the top teams in domestic cricket. How special was it retaining the title with Vidarbha, whose title win last year surprised many, but who have proved their credentials by winning it twice in a row?
It goes to show that last year's title win was not a fluke. This year was even harder than last year.
Last year, maybe people might have taken us a bit lightly some times, knowing that Vidarbha is not a strong team. But this year, in the group stages, out of 18 teams only five teams were going to qualify for the next round.
We topped the group among the 18 teams. I thought that was a commendable achievement in itself and from thereon to win the Ranji Trophy was absolutely amazing.
Any title is not easy to defend. To win the Ranji Trophy is getting harder and harder because a lot of teams, who were not as strong before, have developed and become very strong teams.
Teams like Vidarbha, Saurashtra and Kerala have taken big strides in domestic cricket and are no longer afraid of taking on the traditional powerhouses of Indian cricket like Mumbai or Karnataka.
Absolutely! If you see the Ranji Trophy winners in the last 3, 4 years, Gujarat has won, Vidarbha has won twice. Rajasthan won the title before that while Kerala made it to the semi-finals this year. A team like Jharkhand has also improved quite a lot.
These teams were not so strong before, but they have developed into very good teams. That is why winning a Ranji Trophy title is not a small achievement. I am not saying that it was a small achievement before, but it is now getting harder and harder.
What was Vidarbha's strategy going into this season? Being the defending champions, the other teams were prepared for you this season as compared to last season.
We knew there is going to be a lot more pressure. We discussed this as a team, that teams will now come prepared against us and would not take us lightly anymore. To be honest, we were quite prepared this season.
But the way we started, we were made to follow on in the first game against Maharashtra and we conceded the first innings lead.
Then we conceded the first innings lead against Karnataka in the second game. So we had just two points from the first two games, but from thereon we discussed that we needed to pull up our socks, not that we didn't discuss this before.
We discussed that if we don't do well, then everybody will say that last year was a fluke win.
We came back quite well in the game against Baroda. We did well by getting the first innings lead, then we made them bat again.
We got the first three points, then we won against Chhattisgarh, Mumbai, Railways.
Topping the group out of those 18 teams was an achievement in itself and we never looked back after that.
You played a key role in Vidarbha bouncing back after a slow start to going all the way to win the Ranji Trophy with 1,037 runs in 11 games -- the second highest in the season. How special does it feel to make such an important contribution in the team's title triumph?
Any performance that guides the team to victory or a big title is always special.
I feel very happy that my performances have helped Vidarbha win matches and also the Ranji Trophy.
But it was not only me. We had some very significant performances from other players in our team.
The players stood up and delivered at various stages and that is part and parcel of a team winning a trophy.
There must be 6, 7 players who need to stand up at different stages and perform and that is what we have done.
The key factor for Vidarbha in the final was dismissing Cheteshwar Pujara early in both innings. You are someone who played a lot with or against Pujara. How did you plan his dismissal?
In both innings, he came out to bat when Aditya Sarwate was bowling well. They had lost two wickets very quickly. He didn't come to bat when they had a big partnership so he didn't get time to settle down.
Fortunately, Sarwate was bowling well and the ball spun a little bit. In the first innings, it turned a little as he got the edge and in the second innings it went straight and hits his pads in front.
Against a good player, you don't plan too many things, you just need to be a little bit lucky and hope they make a mistake.
We were very lucky that he got out cheaply in both innings. If he had stayed, then things would have been different.
Pujara is one of those rare players in modern day cricket who has stuck to his old game and focussed on Test cricket despite the advent of T20 cricket...
I would say Ajinkya Rahane and Pujara are the last lot of players who play the game like we used to play.
Obviously his (Pujara's) forte is Test cricket. He doesn't give his wicket away easily and that makes him harder for any team to dismiss him.
You are 40, an age when players start switching careers. Many players who are younger than you have taken the plunge into coaching. At this age, it won't be easy pushing yourself like the youngsters.
What keeps you going to give your best and work hard at practice sessions? How much attention do you pay to fitness?
I am looking after my body and my fitness seriously because every day or every week is very, very, important for me.
Even when I was playing (club cricket) in England for four months, from May to August, I did my fitness sessions quite religiously and that has helped me.
Looking after my diet, looking after my fitness regime, has been of great help.
I am aware that if I don't do it, I won't be able to play. So I need to look at it very seriously whenever I do it and that is the reason that keeps me going.
I still bat quite a lot in the nets. But I don't stress too much on the ground fielding or catching. I do my usual things that I obviously need to do, otherwise I take it easy.
With experience I know what I need to do and where I need to put my energy and I do that in the practice sessions. I don't exert myself and that has helped me.
Being a senior player you get that leeway. I stand in the slips so I don't need to do ground fielding too much.
I specialise in doing that and trying to be as fit as I can. I put a lot of effort behind the scenes and it feels happy when you get the results.