From Maidan Prodigy to Mumbai’s Latest Hero, Sarfaraz Saga Goes On
In three seasons with Uttar Pradesh, Sarfaraz Khan had only played three Ranji Trophy matches.
When one joins a list that comprises Vijay Merchant, Sunil Gavaskar, Ajit Wadekar, Sanjay Manjrekar, Wasim Jaffer and Rohit Sharma owing to one’s batting, there can be little scepticism about one’s ability with the willow.
However, even if one had some, 22-year-old Sarfaraz Khan ensured that it’s nipped in the bud on Monday, 27 January, with a stellar double hundred. This, a week after his gritty knock against Uttar Pradesh in a Ranji Trophy game helped him to become the seventh batsman to slam a first-class triple hundred for Mumbai, was just icing on the cake.
For Mumbaikars though, Sarfaraz slamming tons at will isn’t an unusual scenario; not even a triple hundred.
Those who frequent the maidans in Mumbai will recollect the iconic 439 he hit for Rizvi Springfield in a Harris Shield match against IES Charkop School in 2006.
That knock had not only bettered his idol Sachin Tendulkar’s 346 for Shardashram Vidyamandir but had also been the highest at the time in the tournament’s history.
But none of those knocks in Mumbai would have been as prominent as the one Sarfaraz struck against Uttar Pradesh at the Wankhede Stadium.
Left to scale a towering 626 to take a first-innings lead, Mumbai were reduced to 128/4 when Sarfaraz walked in to bat. He scored an unbeaten 301 off 391 deliveries as Mumbai reached 688/7 before declaring their innings and notching three points.
A match-saving effort? Perhaps more.
Mumbai have won just one game in the Ranji Trophy thus far and had suffered consecutive defeats against Railways and Karnataka. A loss would have effectively killed their campaign in a tournament they have won a record 41-times.
Batting first against Himachal Pradesh, Mumbai were yet again reeling at 16/3 after five overs. At stumps, the scoreboard read: Mumbai 372/5; Sarfaraz 226* off 213 deliveries.
This, however, isn’t something Sarfaraz has picked up of late.
Even during his teenage days, and at the 2016 under-19 World Cup, Khan was often the saviour for his side. Scoring 355 in six innings at the under-19 World Cup, Sarfaraz’s ability to rescue the side from precarious starts didn’t go unnoticed.
His Fall & Rise
Already a part of Royal Challengers Bangalore in the IPL, the Virat Kohli-led side retained him for Rs 1.75 cr in 2018 beside the Indian skipper and AB de Villiers. It came as a surprise to many as the then RCB team also had the likes of Chris Gayle, Yuzvendra Chahal and KL Rahul in its ranks.
However, Sarfaraz failed to follow up the faith shown in him and went spiralling down the order. His aggregate of 51 in seven matches never complimented his skills and he was dropped from their roster.
Although Kings XI Punjab did invest in him in the following season, they had to shell out only Rs 25 lakh for him.
In between, Sarfaraz had switched from Mumbai to Uttar Pradesh in 2015 before making a comeback to Mumbai last season and served the mandatory cooling off period. In three seasons with Uttar Pradesh, Sarfaraz had played just eight Ranji Trophy matches.
By Sarfaraz’s own admission in a recent interview, the loss of form made him plunge into depression. “I was a bit depressed. You have played decent cricket, been an IPL player, represented your state — and then pause, you are going nowhere. My father, however, kept hope,” Sarfaraz told Indian Express.
His time off the pitch has only helped Sarfaraz grow though, reckons his school coach Raju Pathak. “He was suffering from quite a few injuries. Also, switching between two associations and serving the cooling-off period (one year), he used (the time) to good effect. He has improved a lot and is beaming with confidence,” Pathak, coach of Rizvi Springfield High School, told The Quint.
‘Has a Long Way to Go’
“Even at the start of the season, he did not get too many chances for Mumbai. He wasn’t chosen for the Syed Mushtaq Ali and Vijay Hazare tournaments and that had him pumped. He was raring to have a go,” said Pathak, also the childhood coach of India international Prithvi Shaw.
“His shots, etc now that he has also played in the Indian Premier League, have gone up by several notches.”Raju Pathak, Rizvi Springfield High School Coach
Although Sarfaraz’s father Naushad Khan is the former’s primary coach, Sarfaraz started training under Pathak at school when he was in Class VII.
“Even during school days he used to score big. Not just double hundreds, he also had 300s, 400s under his belt. But now with age, his maturity has helped him to elevate it to a next level,” Pathak said.
Pathak also heaped praise on Naushad, saying the hard work put in by Sararaz’s father is a reason why the cricketer shaped up the way he is today. “His father has a huge contribution. Not just by making him bat or grind at the nets for hours, he made Sarfaraz bat at various positions as well,” Pathak added.
“I knew he would go far and it wasn’t just because he would score those towering knocks of 300, 400 etc. His ability to bat through, even in poor conditions, made him a standout performer in his young days,” he added.
However, Pathak also admitted that Sarfaraz still has a long way to go to reach the higher echelons of Indian cricket.
Unlike his more famous ward Prithvi Shaw, Sarfaraz is still a few notches down in the ladder. “He still has a long way to go to break through to the next level. If he continues this form, even the selectors have to keep a look,” Pathak concluded.
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