Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Jaffer seizes opportunity

By the end of the fourth day of the first test, I had a distinct feeling of deja vu. The English team that visited India in 1984-85 (that last to win here) was called the weakest ever to land on our shores. And promptly handed a humiliating defeat to the home team, the then world champions. India were also thumped in the one-day series 4-1, quite a stunning result for a team that went to win the World Championship of Cricket Down Under not long after. The silver lining in that series, otherwise wracked by the ego clashes between Sunny and Kapil, and marred by the murder of the British Deputy High Commissioner and of course the assassination of Mrs.Gandhi and the aftermath, was the emergence of a toothy, wiry young man named Mohammed Azharuddin (whose name cannot be recalled these days without being rueful), who scored those three fabulous hundreds back-to-back. The cover of The Illustrated Weekly announcing "A Star is Born" remains one of my earliest, vivid cricketing memories. Wasim Jaffer is no Azharuddin - that's what I gather from the limited opportunities I have had of watching him - but he did wonderfully well at Nagpur to give himself and the nation's cricket fans some breathing space. Jaffer's sudden selection in the middle of the Ganguly brouhaha was a bit of surprise (although truth to be told, we're no longer surprised by anything, are we?), and in fact, put the chattering classes to work. I must concede that I viewed the selection with extreme suspicion, and still do. That's not to say Jaffer did not deserve a second look, but the question was, why now? Jaffer acquitted himself reasonably well on the tours of England and West Indies, and in my opinion, should have been on the fringes, not the relative wilderness he found himself in. But then that's how our selection committees seem to function, seemingly without a vision even as they speak about the infusion of youth every now and then. Similar in build to a young Azharuddin, Jaffer is a strong player square of the wicket, particularly on the off-side and is generally sound off the back foot. The one weakness that came to the fore in his previous international stint was the tendency to drive from the crease, neither front nor back. Hopefully he's worked on it. Speaking of technical deficiencies, the man who lost his place to Jaffer, Gautam Gambhir does have a few, but the kid has talent and is not afraid to play his shots. If anything, he played too many shots and that has been the problem throughout his short career. I feel for Gambhir - he was always on tenterhooks, especially when the Ganguly issue was brewing over. He did get a decent run, and I can see people not having much sympathy for him, but I do think he needs to be in the reckoning. He's capable of scoring very quickly and that makes him an asset. I fear, though, that our uncaring system is likely to leave him to his own devices rather than nurture him. Exhibit A: Akash Chopra. Sourav Ganguly must take blame for nipping that young man's career in the bud, eager as he was to propel the prodigiously talented Yuvraj into the test side. In the process, both men suffered, although happily for Yuvraj he's come back stronger. As for Jaffer, he should take heart from that other selection accompanied by whispers - that of Ganguly in '96. When you're picked, your one obligation is to justify your selection. - NK

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