†Acha lagta hai bada maarna† (I enjoy scoring big runs)”
There is nothing modest or false about Sarfaraz Khan’s confession. The 153 he scored against Uttarakhand in the quarter-finals of the Ranji Trophy was the lowest of his seven first-class centuries.
The reasoning is quite simple. “After scoring for a century, I feel like I just have to keep going. But after a while I realize 150 isn’t too far. Once I get there, sometimes even 200 seems in sight.”
At the moment Sarfaraz Khan lives in the world of Sarfaraz Khan where there is no shortage of runs. In delight or frustration, everyone around lives on their terms.
On Tuesday (June 7) morning, at 4 a.m., he was playing old Bollywood songs – and humming so loudly to the tunes of Kishore Kumar and Mohammad Rafi, not realizing that many on the hotel room floor woke up to his music.
His roommate, Shashank Attarde, files his complaint”mera neend toda usne aaj(he ruined my sleep), but leaves with a wry smile. After all, as things stand now, Sarfaraz’s hunger for running only competes with his hunger for food, and what keeps him in that space seems a good bargain for his teammates.
In the league phase, he had already amassed 551 runs in three games and took off from where he left in 2020 – 928 runs in nine innings. In Alur he hit a clear round.
“I was pretty excited,” Sarfaraz says, explaining the rationale of his early singing. “I was at 69 (last night) and almost a century. Counting Ranji centuries (after all). I didn’t sleep, I slept early last night.”
Because as excited as the Mumbai batter was to move forward another century, it wasn’t a strange wake for him, he admits. “The 4am start is because I wake up at 4:30am at home. We (Sarfaraz and his father) we have to travel a lot. I get up at 4:30am, go to Cross Maidan to practice (in person) and then leave at 8 and go to BKC to practice in Mumbai. So this is a habit.”
Against Uttarakhand, on a strike-friendly surface, he scored those runs so seamlessly that even he lost track of the pace of his innings – which at one point could have even surpassed his hitting partner, Suved Parkar, despite his entry . to bat almost three hours later.
With soft but strong touches, glances and urges Sarfaraz stroked for another century, with a signature pop to a bouncer over the head of the wicketkeeper for a six to raise his century. So fluidly did he reach the landmark that even he didn’t realize until his teammates started applauding from outside the locker room.
“I knew I was at 69 and had some time. I have this thing where if I take about 10-15 runs I tell myself I’ve only taken 1-2 singles so I keep playing. So today I got a couple of fours and a six and i didn’t realize (that i had reached my century) i thought i had run away 10, (wondering) why are they cheering my teammates tell me no one realizes how fast you innings progressing.”
In a comically late response from a burst of excitement, Sarfaraz dropped his helmet and screamed in anger.
“Because I wanted to make 100,” he actually justifies. “I didn’t want to give up so easily. I think in four games I have 700 runs. My goal is to make 100 regardless of the opponent. Then I give myself bonuses, get ready for the next game. Obviously it’s a hundred yay† I wanted to get there.”
Hunger and despair for hundreds have not yet died in him. Not the pandemic, not the hiatus from first-class cricket, not the time on the sidelines for its IPL teams – nothing has changed Sarfaraz’s form into red ball cricket. The batter thanks his father for the effort he has put in behind the scenes to make him weatherproof.
“All credit must go to abbu (dad) because he has worked with me a lot…” he says before opening how his father made sure there was no shortage of cricket even during the lockdown. “Whenever we were out of season or in lockdown, we would take the car and travel almost 3000 km to play cricket. My village is in Uttar Pradesh. So Madhya Pradesh is close by, and from there (we go to) Mathura, ( and then) Ghaziabad Everywhere there are many academies where we stop for 2-3 days to play matches Cricket also goes on and we also get to read wickets the differences between black and red soil.
“For example, on black wickets you can’t play too much square. You have to play straight. On red wickets you can play late and even leave, there’s a good bounce. Now (I’m ready) or I’ll play in Delhi, Haryana or even Bangalore My abbu would say wherever the match is held it should be your home base When we didn’t have a car Dad was on the railway so we took the Rajdhani express to Delhi He started touring so that wherever we go we are not caught off guard and not afraid.”
Even as bowlers across the country struggle to find the weak spot – not just to threaten his wicket, but even to keep his scoring rate in check, Sarfaraz’s father has been keeping a close eye on his weaknesses. Or as the batter points out, “Only a GP can tell you what you need at what time.”
“My abbu told me that until the time you play just put an ‘L’ behind you – learn. Keep learning. The day before, when I shared my video of netbatting with abbu, I was concerned about my batting. I told him my elbow went in and the bat’s face closed, because i played a lot of white ball cricket he said, “All that doesn’t happen, (the problem is in) your first move, your leg moves fast, that’s why your weight goes one way. That’s what he is, my karta dharta(someone who takes care of everything).”
Other than watching movies and web series to clear his head before going to bed, there’s not much Sarfaraz does outside of cricket, he says. He plays, watches, talks and possibly even breathes the game.
In the end, it was the overthinking that caused his eventual demise on the second day of play.
Because an innings as clear and hopeless as they come ended when Sarfaraz tried to make a hard swipe at Mayank Mishra’s left arm spin and missed the line, you would believe. But not really. It ended when Sarfaraz assumed what the bowler’s plan would be and tried to plan a shot in advance.
And just as stubbornly, he admits reading the bowler: “I thought he was going to bowl in the rough, but by accident he didn’t bowl there. I don’t know what his plan was, but the pitch says he would.” must do.” I bowled on the rough. I was ready for that, and I was looking for a six over mid wicket. But he bowled on the line of the stumps. I didn’t think that would happen.”
He thought a lot: about the ball, the bowler, the field, the shot and the result. The one thing he didn’t do, as Brendon McCullum popularly said of himself, was that he “forgot to look at the ball.”