Everybody loves an underdog story. Even more so when the underdog keeps losing for no fault of his. Sarfaraz Khan, the middle-order batsman from Mumbai’s crowded and poor suburb Kurla is the underdog story of the season. Yet again.
Questions are raised every time Sarfaraz is not selected for the national team. This time around, for the World Test Championship final in England, the experienced Ajinkya Rahane was brought out from the cold storage despite 25-year-old Sarfaraz’s 556 runs at an average of 92.66 in the 2022-23 Ranji Trophy season. The previous season, Sarfaraz scored 982 runs in six matches at an average of 122.75 but that wasn’t good enough for the selectors either.
The debate around Sarfaraz runs along the familiar lines. What more does he need to do? Star spinner R. Ashwin, in his video, went to the extent of saying that Sarfaraz through his performances has burnt down the selection door. Burn it or break it, but he can’t get in.
IN THE RESERVES
There is some consolation for the batsman and his supporters that he has been named as one of the reserves for the World Test Championship. The other batters in the reserves are Ishan Kishan and Ruturaj Gaekwad. This could be an indication that he may yet feature in Tests on home soil.
But what makes Sarfaraz such a polarising figure among the selectors? He doesn’t look like a modern cricketer – lean, mean, fit… think Virat Kohli. His stocky frame, somewhat like Rishabh Pant, indicates a biryani-munching, happy-go-lucky boy who likes to hit the ball a long distance.
To realise why half-the-nation is rooting for this chubby boy from Kurla’s Taximen Colony, it is important to know the Sarfaraz story, his pushy father-cum-coach-cum-mentor-cum everything, and his doting family.
Sarfaraz was selected for the Mumbai Ranji team when he was still a teenager. His father, Naushad Khan, firmly believes his son was born to play cricket. Kudrat ka nizaam, if you like.
Naushad Khan is a real-life taskmaster, a lot like Aamir Khan’s portrayal of wrestler and coach Mahavir Phogat in the movie Dangal. After making his son hit hundreds (sometimes thousands) of balls, he makes him watch his videos. Dinner is not later than 8 pm, and lights are out at the family home by 9.30 pm.
Sarfaraz came into prominence when he broke the 1988 Harris Shield (Mumbai schools tournament) record set by Sachin Tendulkar, by scoring 439 off 421 balls for Rizvi Springfield. He was just 12 years old then. The innings included 56 fours and 12 sixes.
Even today, when Sarfaraz is in Mumbai, the drill begins before the sun is out. The entire family of four, including his younger brother Musheer – is up by 5 am. The dad and the boys are at the ground by 7 and the part of the process is to face around 600 balls a day.
Plenty has been said about Sarfaraz’s fitness. He is match fit, despite his looks. Sunil Gavaskar, defending Sarfaraz, said that if selectors want to select only slim and trim guys, then they should go to a fashion show and pick some models and then give them a bat and ball in their hand and include them.
The staggering number of runs scored by the right-hander, who idolises AB de Villiers, cannot have been scored by an unfit player. His critics say he is uncomfortable against the bouncer. A couple of seasons ago, for India ‘A’ tour to South Africa, he scored 71 not out against a pace attack comprising Marco Jansen, Beuran Hendricks, Glenton Stuurman and Lutho Sipamla.
Sarfaraz has already played for three Indian Premier League (IPL) franchises. After a good showing at the 2014 Under-19 World Cup, he was bought by Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) in 2015 for Rs 50 lakh. At 17, he is the youngest player to have ever participated in an IPL match.
A couple of up-and-down seasons with the RCB resulted in both parting ways, and he was snapped up by Preity Zinta’s Kings XI Punjab, now called Punjab Kings. These days, he plies his trade with Delhi Capitals.
With so much of brouhaha surrounding him, Sarfaraz will eventually play for India. And the nation would be hoping this underdog story turns out to be a happy one.
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