The Indian team management has been looking at Shubman Gill as a middle order option in Test cricket for a long time now.
Why does a Sarfaraz Khan article begin with the mention of Shubman Gill, you might ask. Play along for a moment.
Shubman proved his worth on India's historic tour of Australia in 2020-21. Even before what he did to Mitchell Starc on the last day of the Gabba Test, there was considerable consensus among the powers that be in Indian cricket that Gill was one for the future.
For all his flamboyance, Prithvi Shaw can be a bit hit or miss in Test cricket due to the obvious chinks in his technique. Once that was quite clear with Shaw looking quite uncomfortable against the moving ball on tours of New Zealand and Australia, Gill got his opportunity, and succeeded right away.
But, even in Gill's case, the way he sets up and his penchant to stay beside the line of the ball meant that he would be much more successful in the middle order rather than at the top in red ball cricket.
Unfortunately, due to a litany of reasons, with Mayank Agarwal getting concussed after being hit on the head with a bouncer during practice and then subsequently losing form, Rohit Sharma getting injured on more than one occasion and KL Rahul being in an out of the side, India haven't been able to audition Gill in the middle order.
But rest assured, he is in the squad for the Test series against Australia both as a backup opener and a spare middle order batter. Despite his red-hot form in white ball cricket, it is difficult to see him start with KL Rahul being named the vice-captain, which also shows the latter's worth in the estimation of the team management.
It is a left-field choice but the team is also looking at Rahul as a wicket-keeping option to free up one more batting slot in the middle order in the absence of Rishabh Pant so that they can fit in somebody like Suryakumar Yadav.
Coming to Sarfaraz Khan, he has done nothing wrong on his part. From just 37 First Class matches, the Mumbai batter has already piled up over 3,500 runs at an average of almost 80, only second to Don Bradman among batters having scored a minimum of 2,000 runs. Khan has already amassed 13 centuries and was inches away from making the India squad from the Bangladesh Test tour.
Last year, Sarfaraz finished his Ranji Trophy campaign with an incredible tally of 982 runs from just six matches and was the leading run-scorer in the 2021-22 season with four centuries, two half-centuries and an eye-watering average of 122.75.
On current form as well, he has been scoring by the dozens, having notched up three centuries in his last five First Class matches.
Unfortunately for him, the way Team India sets up at the moment, Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul will open the batting in the Test series in all probability, with Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli and Shreyas Iyer following.
With the all-rounders and bowlers to come next, it leaves us with only the wicket-keeper's slot for which Ishan Kishan and KS Bharat are vying. Even if India gamble with a makeshift wicket-keeper on turning pitches, which doesn't sound encouraging prima facie, they already have the oozing class of Shubman Gill as a backup option.
The selectors must have deliberated about Sarfaraz Khan long and hard but the manner in which Suryakumar Yadav has performed in T20 International cricket over the last year makes his selection on turning tracks a no-brainer.
SKY's proficiency against spin and his gamut of sweep shots makes him too tempting a prospect to overlook even in red ball cricket. And, just for the record, there are no two ways about the fact that India will offer rank turners in the four-match Test series against Australia with the World Test Championship's final berth on the line.
The fact that they have picked four spinners in Ravichandran Ashwin, Axar Patel, Ravindra Jadeja and Kuldeep Yadav in the squad gives a clear indication of the type of surfaces that will be on offer in the series. And, on those, a quickfire 40-ball 60 will be far more valuable than a solid 100-ball 60.
The arguments of First Class cricket being undermined and not enough value being attached to the runs scored in the Ranji Trophy are all valid but with India keen on playing all three of KL Rahul, Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara and Shreyas Iyer being the team's highest run-scorer in Test cricket over the last year in the absence of Rishabh Pant, there isn't a place for Sarfaraz Khan at the moment unless India are willing to take extreme measures.
Let it be known that Mike Hussey finally got to debut for Australia at 30 in Tests and still ended up smashing more than 6,000 runs at over 50. The point is that there are times when despite a batter doing all he can in domestic cricket, a country's cricketing system is just too robust and there are just too many good players knocking about in the system that it is extremely tough to make room for even the worthiest of candidates.
So, cut the selectors some slack?
Sarfaraz Khan is 25 and believe you me, his moment in the sun is not far off. In fact, he is just one injury away from walking into the Indian dressing room. If not that, the India tour of West Indies in July-August this year will almost certainly bring joy to him and his ever growing tribe of supporters.
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