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After Early Success & Controversies, Sarfaraz Finally Draws Focus On His Batting

Sarfaraz Khan has the second-best batting average of 82.83 among players with a minimum of 2,000 first-class runs.

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Over the last two Ranji Trophy seasons, Sarfaraz Khan has re-established himself as a batter to watch in Indian cricket and has successfully completed his 'comeback' in the contenders list, specially with his performance this season, where he's currently the highest-scorer, and more than 200 runs ahead of the second batter on the list.

His tally in the successive seasons read 928 and 937 runs, making him the only Ranji batter to breach the 900-run mark in back-to-back seasons.

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Sarfaraz's journey in the cricketing circuit has been a topsy-turvy one. After amassing 211 runs in six matches at an average of 70.33 in the 2014 Under-19 World Cup, he was snapped up by Royal Challengers Bangalore in the 2015 IPL season, at the age of 17.

His batting exploits in the 2016 Under-19 World Cup – 355 runs from six innings with five 50s at an average of 71 – meant he was being seen as the next big thing in Indian cricket. He then caught everybody's attention with some vital cameos at the fag end of the innings in RCB's 2015 and 2016 campaigns.

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A Career Marred by Controversies

However, things were not as smooth for Sarfaraz as they seemed, not even after the head start at such a tender age and he was accused of age fraud by a school team in 2011.

A bone test taken by him didn't match the registered date of birth at the Mumbai Cricket Association (MCA). However, a later assessment by the MCA gave him a clean chit. But that incident took a toll on his mental health and led him to consult a psychologist.

In 2012, he was amongst the three cricketers from Mumbai selected for a month-long stint with the Hull Cricket Club in the Yorkshire League. Sarfaraz also got inducted into the lofty Wisden Cricketers' Almanack in the same year. Steering past the hiccups, just when things were starting to look good for him, the Mumbai batter got expelled from a BCCI batting camp at Bandra Kurla Complex on disciplinary grounds.

In 2015, Sarfaraz got dropped from the Mumbai team along with teammate Suryakumar Yadav for making unsavoury gestures at MCA officials after leading his team to a victory in the U-19 championship semi-final. Their match fees were withheld for two years as a punishment.

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Shifting Base to UP on Father's Decision

Naushad Khan, Sarfaraz's father and childhood coach, decided that a change in camp would give his son's career the flight it needed. One of Azad Maidan's greatest prodigies then chose to represent Uttar Pradesh in the 2015-16 domestic season.

By Sarfaraz's own admission, his cricket came to a standstill after this change. From being the talk of the town, suddenly he found himself out of the RCB setup due to fitness issues and dropped from the UP squad on the same grounds. He also had an Anterior Cruciate Ligament tear.

He told Deccan Herald:

"Overnight, literally, I was left out by RCB, I had moved to Uttar Pradesh, and I had an ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament) tear to recover from…. I was a has-been. I felt like this at 17. You think about it. How would you have reacted to all this pressure when you’re 17?."
Sarfaraz Khan
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Sarfaraz missed the entire IPL 2017 because of the injury. Surprisingly, he was amongst the three retentions by RCB in the 2018 mega auction, but his meagre returns of 51 runs from six innings couldn't justify his spot. The dejected batter was released by the franchise later that year.

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A Homecoming Turns Out to Be Fruitful

After three years of leaving Mumbai, life had come a full circle for the 24-year-old. After his dismal run in IPL 2018, Sarfaraz returned to Mumbai to start afresh. The MCA accepted his letter expressing willingness to play for them on the condition of serving a cool-off period of one year.

Sarfaraz hasn't looked back since, as has amassed astronomical numbers in the 2019-20 and 2021-22 Ranji Trophy seasons.

With another innings left in the Ranji Trophy 2021-22 final, the cricketer has already earned a place on a lofty list, sitting second only to the legendary Don Bradman. His tally of 2,485 runs from 25 matches at a staggering average of 82.83 has made him the second-best on the list of players with the highest batting average in first-class cricket. The criterion is – the player has to score a minimum of 2,000 first-class runs. Bradman tops the list, scoring at an average of 95.14.

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The boisterous cricketer's batting average of 82.76 in Ranji Trophy in 23 matches is the third-highest for any cricketer who has scored 2,000-plus runs. Only Vijay Merchant (98.35) and Sachin Tendulkar (87.37) have a better average than Sarfaraz across the 87 editions of the tournament.

Sarfaraz Khan has also reserved two spots on the list of top-five players who have scored 900-plus Ranji Trophy runs at a higher average. His average of 928 runs from 9 innings at an average of 154.66 in the previous season has earned him second place on the prestigious list. Sarfaraz has found himself on that list one more time for his herculean season of 937 runs from eight innings in the 2021-22 cycle, securing fourth place. Rusi Modi leads the list for scoring 1,008 runs at an average of 201.60 in the 1944/45 season.

He has scored six 150-plus scores since the start of 2020, emulating Joe Root for the most number of 150s in first-class cricket, before being dismissed for 134 in the ongoing Ranji final.

With his consistent batting exploits, there's no way a maiden national call-up could elude him for long.

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