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India’s First Sarfaraz Khan – Tempestuous Tales From a Unique Journey

Sarfaraz Khan's career has been shrouded as much in controversies, as it has been in centuries. We track his journey

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The ways of earning to prominence, in any domain, are multifarious. One could inculcate every attribute of their domain’s champions to be successful. That, however, is a tedious task. Alternatively, one could do the exact opposite – accomplish feats even the champions could not, instead of imitating them.

The latter brings us to Sarfaraz Khan.

Among the Many ‘Next Sachin Tendulkar’ India Has Had

In 2009, a 12-year-old, hailing from the Kurla suburb of Mumbai, found profound words such as ‘prodigy’, ‘wunderkind’ and ‘virtuoso’ associated with his name, with zealous men and women chasing him with cameras and microphones.

Sarfaraz had just scored 439 runs in a Harris Shield match. The headlines were quick to mention how he broke Sachin Tendulkar’s record of 346 runs in a 1988 game. That, the record actually belonged to a star-crossed Ramesh Nagdev, for his 427-run knock way back in the 1960s, was conveniently forgotten.
Sarfaraz Khan's career has been shrouded as much in controversies, as it has been in centuries. We track his journey
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The undivided attention was on Sachin’s record, for in Indian cricket, everything about the game’s ‘God’ is marketable. And a mere kid having the audacity to break his record?

Voila! An absolute media jackpot, as stories of ‘Meet India’s next Sachin Tendulkar’ are rife, and in incredible demand. Until the prodigy fades into obscurity.

Fast forward a decade and a half, any recollection of those exaggerated expectations seems futile. Sarfaraz Khan did not become 'India's next Sachin Tendulkar'. Perhaps, he was never meant to be. But having earned his maiden Test cap against England, at the age of 26, he has the chance to carve his own identity, becoming India’s first Sarfaraz Khan – one of a kind, unique in his blend of potential and problems.

We trace his story.

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Living a Father’s Dream

Long before ‘Project Mbappe’ became a social media trend, wherein parents try to make their kids the next Kylian Mbappe, Naushad Khan had meticulously prepared, to the most minuscule of details, the ‘Project Sarfaraz’ blueprint. With his dream of donning the blue never coming to fruition, his attention shifted to his sons, Sarfaraz and Musheer, the latter now setting the stage on fire at the ongoing U19 World Cup.

Hours of training at the John Bright Cricket Club in Azad Maidan was not enough for young Sarfaraz, who often slept on the ground, just to ensure not a second was wasted in commute, and practice started before dawn the next day.

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Amid Centuries, There Were Controversies

Courtesy of his performances, and the incessant media coverage, it did not take Sarfaraz long to become a renowned name in Mumbai’s intra-school circuit. But amid centuries, there have also been controversies aplenty in his career.

In 2011, a school accused the then 13-year-old of falsifying his age, alleging him to be much older. Much of his blooming confidence was obliterated when a bone age assessment found him to be 15 years of age. Albeit an advanced examination proved that Sarfaraz, in fact, was 13, the trauma compelled him to take a break from cricket, and seek psychological help.
Sarfaraz Khan's career has been shrouded as much in controversies, as it has been in centuries. We track his journey

There have also been questions on disciplinary grounds throughout his career, the first of them occurring when he was 12. Having just returned from an cricket-cum-academic expedition in the United Kingdom, Sarfaraz ran into trouble during a BCCI-organised camp in Mumbai Cricket Association’s indoor facilities at the Bandra Kurla Complex. Whilst details of the melee were withheld, Sarfaraz was ousted from the camp.

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From U19 World Cup to the IPL, and Then a Suspension

At only 16 years of age, Sarfaraz was deemed to be talented enough for a place in India’s 2014 ICC U19 Men’s Cricket World Cup squad. Among the likes of Shreyas Iyer and Sanju Samson, who are all established names in the international circuit now, Sarfaraz did well not to seem out of place. In six matches, he scored 211 runs, with his strike rate of 105.50 being the highest among Indian cricketers.

Sarfaraz Khan's career has been shrouded as much in controversies, as it has been in centuries. We track his journey

The U19 exploits attracted interest from Indian Premier League (IPL) franchises, and Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) secured his signature for Rs 50 lakh ahead of the 2015 season.

Sarfaraz Khan's career has been shrouded as much in controversies, as it has been in centuries. We track his journey

Sarfaraz’s introduction to the competition was monumental. In only his second innings, the 17-year-old ‘pocket dynamo’ – as some called him, owing to his short and stout stature and ravaging power – scored a match-winning 21-ball 45.

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The sight of Australia’s prized all-rounders, Shane Watson and James Faulkner, being taken to the cleaners by a batter yet to be eligible for a driver’s license, was impressive enough for Virat Kohli to bow down – quite literally – to Sarfaraz. His place in the team was all but cemented.
Sarfaraz Khan's career has been shrouded as much in controversies, as it has been in centuries. We track his journey

Albeit, like his batting approach, he did not exercise constraints on any of his traits. In the same year when he emerged as among IPL's newest attractions, Sarfaraz was dropped from the Mumbai team, yet again on grounds of discipline. The player, alongside Suryakumar Yadav, had made derogatory gestures towards the selectors after a triumph in a U19 semi-final game.

Sarfaraz eventually left Mumbai for Uttar Pradesh, on his father's suggestion.

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A Redeeming U19 WC, Followed by Fitness & Injury Troubles

Walking a tightrope between the faults and the fantastic, Sarfaraz redeemed himself in the next edition of the U19 World Cup, in 2016. This team boasted the likes of Rishabh Pant and Ishan Kishan, but none shone brighter than the Mumbaikar, who accumulated 355 runs, scoring five half-centuries in six matches.

Sarfaraz Khan's career has been shrouded as much in controversies, as it has been in centuries. We track his journey
Yet, he was dropped from the RCB playing XI, with his fitness level not being in synchronisation with the standards set by Kohli. According to Sarfaraz’s account, whilst the former RCB skipper always had trust in his potential, he needed to be a lot fitter than he was to compete among the best.

During his resurgence journey, Sarfaraz suffered a catastrophic setback when he ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in 2017, ruling him out of the entire IPL 2017 season.

Sarfaraz Khan's career has been shrouded as much in controversies, as it has been in centuries. We track his journey
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The Reawakening, and Entry Into the Indian Team

By 2018, the Sarfaraz chapter in Indian cricket was written off by many. Runs had dried up in the IPL, and he could barely get into Uttar Pradesh’s scheme of things.

Change was essential, but it came at a cost – a rather hefty one. In July 2018, the batter opted to return to Mumbai, but he was ineligible for the next Ranji Trophy season, owing to a mandatory one-year cooling period. At 20 – considered to be the age when a player enters the big leagues – Sarfaraz was sat idle at his home.

One is welcome to plot pros and cons, but beyond everything, Sarfaraz’s decision was a gamble. Fortunately, a gamble that paid off, for he has been among the more consistent red-ball batters since the commencement of his second chapter in Mumbai.

In January 2020, Sarfaraz scored his maiden Ranji Trophy triple century, becoming only the seventh batter to do so from Mumbai. Giving him company on the elite list are esteemed names like Sunil Gavaskar and Rohit Sharma.
Sarfaraz Khan's career has been shrouded as much in controversies, as it has been in centuries. We track his journey
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Then in the 2021/22 season, he finished as the tournament’s leading run-scorer, with 982 runs at an average of 122.75. The second name on the list was a staggering 324 runs adrift.

Sarfaraz Khan's career has been shrouded as much in controversies, as it has been in centuries. We track his journey

The reawakening has been relentless, with Sarfaraz scoring 161 runs in his last match against the England Lions. With KL Rahul being unavailable for the upcoming Test against England – to be held in Visakhapatnam from 2 February – Sarfaraz might, after multiple knocks on the door, make his debut.

That, he has been ‘der’ in his journey – be it for his fault or others’ – is indisputable. Whether he will be ‘durust’ in his new chapter remains to be seen. 

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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