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Straight bat, nice talk, nicer food...



SIMPLE WORDS, SUMPTUOUS FOOD: India cricketer Wasim Jaffer enjoys some non-vegetarian offer at New Delhi's The Park Hotel. Photo: V.V Krishnan.

HE BRINGS to you the virtues of humility - honesty, simplicity, understated elegance. It is easy to say there is an undeniable dignity in his demeanour; he is actually self-effacing to the point of self-abnegation. It is a rare trait, rarer in the world of cricketers, where self-advertisement is often the most preferred vehicle to stardom. Welcome aboard the Wasim Jaffer bandwagon, chugging along quietly, unobtrusively, though not always so nicely.

The stylish right-hander who did not put a foot wrong in the Caribbeans and little right in England, is sitting at The Park Hotel's Portico restaurant in New Delhi. Sipping watermelon juice, he opens his heart. "Everybody who is selected to play for India should be given a decent run to prove himself. I scored a 50 in the Lord's Test and failed in the second. I was dropped subsequently. Anyway, I have to score runs to get back to the national team. That is the only way," he says, a shade wistful, a shade lamenting. True to his word, next day the Anjuman-e-Islam lad walks out to bat and scores a hundred against the Ranji Trophy champions Railways.

With the World Cup here and India's next Test match some distance away, his comeback though will have to wait - Jaffer has never been part of the one-day scene. "I don't know why? You will have to ask the selectors that." What cannot wait though is a special offering of Portico's Shakarkandi starters. Jaffer is not too fond of the sweet potato offering and moves quickly to the main course. "I cannot cook anything other than an Omelette and prepare a cup of tea. But I am fond of good non-vegetarian food. I particularly like Murgh, roasted or fried," says the 24-year-old man whose humble beginnings have not dazed his view of the world. "I am not very fond of the five-star culture. I don't like superficial ways but if somebody does give you a genuine smile, you can make it out."

As music plays in the background, Jaffer's thoughts shift from cricket. "I am a great fan of Dilip Kumar. He was peerless in some of his films. I am also a great admirer of Mohammed Rafi. I have always been a follower of music. Among the contemporary actors I quite like Govinda and Johny Lever," he says. On being told that his favourite star's latest film, "Chalo Ishq Ladaye" did not find any love at the box office, he reasons: "He is repeating himself. He should do something new. Stick to comedy but do some other roles."

Jaffer, who can talk about the craft and style of Majrooh Sultanpuri and Shakeel Badayuni with ease, certainly knows something about striking the right notes. "I like old songs and listen to them whenever I have time."

This is time though not for music but some tingling Hyderabadi Gosht biryani, prepared with special care by Chef Bakshish Dean and his team. "It is quite tasty," he offers on a polite enquiry about the food. He has Mirchi Ka Salan to go with rice. Not to forget Shami Kabab. "I love kababs" Jaffers admits, before adding that he is actually quite a foodie. "I like Indian food but I am comfortable with Italian and Chinese fare too. I don't mind experimenting when it comes to food,"

Says the shy man who believes Dilip Vengsarkar has played an important role in his career, though he idolises Sunil Gavaskar too.

When it comes to life and cricket - the two are probably inseparable for him - Jaffer prefers to play it safe. Offers a straight bat, to borrow a cricketing terminology. "I pray to God that whatever respect he has given me that should stay. Whatever I have He should not take that way at any time. Prayers are a question of faith. They are answered only if you faith," says the man who admits he is not regular with his prayers because "I have to practice five-six hours a day on non-match days to stay fit and in form. That leaves very little time and energy to observe rozah or to say your prayers at the appointed hour." He, however, prays that he gets back his berth in the Indian team sooner than later. "Pray for me," requests this commerce graduate who is still a bachelor and intends to stay one for a couple of years. One does. Hopefully, this one will be answered.

ZIYA US SALAM

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