Exclusive: ‘I have come here with a very clear mind,’ says Odisha coach Wasim Jaffer
From being the most capped Ranji Trophy player to being its greatest run-scorer, former India international Wasim Jaffer has a wealth of experience under his belt that he intends to utilise as the Head Coach of the Odisha state cricket team as they gear up for a packed domestic season.
The 43-year-old sat down with Sambad’s Samiran Mishra for a long and detailed chat about the state of cricket in Odisha and his personal journey so far.
What has been your biggest challenge in a set-up like Odisha?
I think I must be the first professional coach of Odisha since Michael Bevan. I don’t think Odisha has had a professional coach for a long time. The Odisha Cricket Association (OCA) has a vision which is why they brought me here to break the culture and move forward in domestic cricket.
The Secretary Mr. Sanjay Behera has been very straightforward from the beginning that he wants his ‘Vision 2024 Project’ to be implemented and start getting results. In the last few seasons, Odisha has not done much as a state team at U-19 level or Ranji Trophy so obviously he wants Odisha cricket to progress.
He assured me that I will have his backing be it selection or training or whatever we require to move forward. I have come here with a very fresh mind. I don’t know much about these players. So I will build my own perceptions about the players as we progress. Sometimes you may have the best ideas but if you don’t have the proper backing of the association then it can get difficult. So far it has been very good.
We have only played one tournament, the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, but we have improved from previous seasons. Last year we did not beat any team but this year we beat Goa, we came very close to beating Tamil Nadu, the defending champions, so I feel we are improving and moving in the right direction.
As far as challenges go, I think weather remains at the top. When I joined in August, we hardly got any practice outdoors because of the rains. So that is going to be a challenge every season. What I felt was that these players do not venture outside the state to practice or play matches.
The good teams go out and play in England, Bangladesh and even in Indian cities like Chennai or Kolkata. Here I found that these players do not go out and try new avenues to broaden their horizons. So that is another challenge. They are pretty much comfortable in their own bubbles. My challenge will be to get the players practice against quality opposition and make them play competitive matches.
For example, in the Kalahandi Cup, until you go into the Super League where you have the First-Class players playing, the standards can be very poor. The performances in the League stage can be very, very misleading. Players score hundreds or 150 and think they can play for Odisha. So I think that needs to be addressed.
Since you mentioned Michael Bevan and exposure to quality opposition, back when he was the coach of Odisha in 2011-12, he had organised a tour of Australia for the players. Is there something similar planned under your tenure?
Before the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, we went to Chhattisgarh to play five or six friendly games. Before Vijay Hazare we are going to Madhya Pradesh to play six practice games with them.
If we only practice in Odisha then there is no point. The players here know each other, they know all the conditions, they know how the wicket behaves at the Barabati Stadium or the grounds at Ravenshaw University or DRIEMS. But when you go out and play against new opponents, especially against stronger teams, then your mind starts to work. The main challenges will not be the tournaments but rather the preparations before them especially in July and August when it is rainy season here. We don’t have a very high-class indoor facility. The challenge will be to go out and play a lot of good tournaments and practice in really good conditions.
For example, after Vijay Hazare, we can ask some other state team to come here and play friendly games against us.
I want to encourage players to go to England or even Chennai or Mumbai and try to look at the game in a different way. Their growth will be exponential when they go out and play in different conditions and outside their comfort zones. It will not just make them better players but also better persons.
Is the lack of a world-class indoor facility a cause for concern?
We have an indoor facility and the administration has assured me to get it into the right shape soon. The Secretary is working towards it. He also has plans to build a very good academy around here so we are looking forward to that.
Having a very good indoor facility is essential considering the heavy rains in Odisha. When we came back from Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, the players wanted to practice but we could not because it was raining. So I understand their plight. You need to train in good conditions to compete against good opposition.
How is the ‘Vision 2024 Project’ coming along? Since you are not just the senior men’s team coach but Chief Coach of the entire set-up, how are things shaping up?
I have had chats with all the coaches in the set-up and we have had several group meetings as well. I have told them about how to look at things from a coaching perspective. I have interacted with a lot of coaches but I did not get enough time to look at the players in the junior groups.
I did see the Kalahandi Cup to learn more about the players. I saw a lot of players who have gone to the BCCI Men’s U-25 State A Trophy. I still haven’t seen enough of the U-19 and U-16 players since I am very occupied with the senior team. So it’s going to take time.
As and when I get time, since the calendar is so tight, I would definitely want to attend each practice session and try to make a difference.
Who among the current crop of players has impressed you the most?
Like I said, we have only played one tournament so far. I would have to say Subhranshu Senapati had a couple of decent innings even though he is still a long way from what I expect from him. Debabrata Pradhan has shown good improvement from what he was last year. Bikash Rout playing in his first Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy did well.
34-year-old Jayanta Behera has done well. It was only after I saw him in the Kalahandi Cup that I was impressed by him and he showed how good he was. Odisha actually missed a trick by not playing him the last two or three seasons. These are the players that I would say have done well. There are definitely a lot of other players with potential.
Anshuman Rath, the former captain of Hong Kong, is someone with international experience. How is he settling in?
He has been very good and showing a lot of promise. He has got runs in the Kalahandi Cup and intra-club tournaments but that promise needs to translate into performances that could not happen in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy but I am sure he will turn it around.
He has gone with the U-25 team and hopefully will score a lot of runs there. Like you said, he has played at an international level so that always helps. He is only 23 years old but he has played in so many different conditions. He went and played in England, he has practiced in Mumbai, so that is something which I expect the local guys to do. He has ventured into so many other avenues and played in different conditions so I hope he will perform well because his process is right.
Going into the Vijay Hazare Trophy in December before entering the Ranji Trophy, what are your realistic ambitions and dreams for the squad?
I think the realistic ambitions will be to compete and beat the good teams. That will really make me happy. Going toe to toe with reputed sides like Bombay, Karnataka or Bengal will give me happiness and instill a lot of belief in the players.
The game against Tamil Nadu, the defending champions, in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, we lost by just one run. It would have been a massive confidence booster for the players. That is something I expect from them and to qualify into the knockouts. That is the first objective I am looking at. And then it’s a different story.
Similarly in the Ranji Trophy, the first hurdle would be to get in the knockouts.
The Uttarakhand episode created quite a stir in national media. What exactly transpired there and why did you choose Odisha as your next destination in its aftermath?
Well, they accused me of things that were not true. I was really looking forward to the role in Uttarakhand because it was my first year as a coach. I worked very passionately and sincerely. But unfortunately, whatever happened administrative-wise or selection-wise did not please me. There came a point when I realised that things were not going the way as I had imagined. That is the reason why I was really upset. There are certain limits beyond which you don’t enjoy a job.
For somebody like me, who has played the game at the highest level and was doing his job very sincerely, when there is no reciprocation of respect, then it feels very bad. It had reached a point where I thought that it was not worth it. So I resigned.
Religion is the last thing on your mind. India is probably the only country that has got such a diverse set of people. For someone like me who has played the game for so long to get accused of such utter rubbish will stay with me no matter what. I know how hard I had worked in that job.
Speaking of Odisha, I had a couple of other offers. But Odisha had a vision. They wanted me to come here and help get their team to the next level. So that was something that excited me.
There was a rumour that West Bengal wanted you as a batting consultant. Why did you decline the offer?
From being the head coach of a state team to being a batting consultant did not entice me. Arun Lal, a great batter during his time, is the head coach in Bengal so me going there won’t make much of a difference.
On a lighter note, are you enjoying your time in Odisha and have you tried any Odia food yet?
I have tried that thing they sell in front of the Barabati Stadium (Dahibara Aludum), somebody brought me a parcel which was good. I have also tried the Cuttack biryani. One of our support staff got it from one of the popular places here whose name I cannot recollect at the moment. I also tried the bamboo mutton from a restaurant. So yes I did try a few dishes.
I am really enjoying it here. Coaching is something really close to my heart and it is very gratifying to play a part in someone else’s growth. When you work hard towards a player or a team and you see them do well, it really makes me happy. We have got a very good team and a wonderful support staff as well. It’s like a family.
About those memes, do you make them yourself or do you have a team that does it for you.
Of course I do them myself. Most of them are Bollywood-related since I am a huge movie buff. In my free time, after a hard day’s work, I just put on a random film channel on TV and try to relax.