Ranji Trophy 2021-22 – Sarfaraz Khan

Sarfaraz Khan was tearfully packing his bags to move from Mumbai to Uttar Pradesh for the 2015-16 season. Having spent his entire childhood in Mumbai, Sarfaraz, then just 18, was not at all happy with his father’s decision to move to better opportunities. But his father, Naushad Khan, is also his coach and mentor, and once Naushad makes a decision, Sarfaraz doesn’t go into it.

Having already played under 14 and 16 for Mumbai, Sarfaraz made his first-class debut and started dreaming of scoring centuries for Mumbai’s seniors. There was no point in leaving his hometown.

“When I was packing all this to move to UP, and I don’t know now why I decided to move to UP, one thing I thought about was that at Under-19 we got to see videos of some of the the big players in the Mumbai Ranji shirt, hitting for centuries or lifting the trophy,” Sarfaraz told ESPNcricinfo from his home, before the IPL kicked off this year. “It was my dream to turn a century with the Mumbai Ranji shirt. So when I was packing all that, I cried thinking ‘what will happen to my future now, how will things be for me work in UP’ etc.”

Sarfaraz calmed his nerves by scoring a sparkling 155 on his UP debut, but he only played three Ranji games that season as he was part of the India Under-19 roster and a World Cup was on the way in early 2016. UP, meanwhile, failed to make the Ranji knockouts that season, and painfully for Sarfaraz, Mumbai, who had not won the title since 2012-13, lifted the trophy for the 41st time.

Sarfaraz felt that he would “never come back.” Also the following season, he played in just five of UP’s eight games and averaged under 30 by just half a century. By now he was frustrated. “I said to my father: ab mereko nahi khelne ka hai idhar-udhar se, ab khelunga to mumbai se warna main cricket chhod doonga (I don’t want to play for another team anymore, if I play cricket it will be for Mumbai). And home is home. We all make mistakes and sometimes you make those decisions [of switching teams], and it feels bad so far. There I scored 60, 70 kinds of scores, so I thought I should score a lot and returned to Mumbai.”

However, returning was not so easy. According to BCCI rules, he had to serve a one-year cooling off period before he could play for Mumbai again, and Sarfaraz accumulated many runs during that period while playing club cricket in the city. It was almost as if Sarfaraz went back in time. After playing three Ranji seasons, two of the IPL and all three formats in the domestic circuit, he was now back at club cricket.

In early 2020, after five long years, he finally wore the Mumbai jersey again. But against Karnataka in the first innings, he only lasted 20 balls for eight runs.

“After I got out, I felt like I was going to be dropped,” Sarfaraz says.

When Mumbai struck again, Prtihvi Shaw suffered an injury and veteran top four Aditya Tare, Ajinkya Rahane, Siddhesh Lad and captain Suryakumar Yadav fell before Mumbai had 30 on the board. Sarfaraz was already nervous and had the added responsibility of keeping his place, and he found himself in a tricky situation that caused him to lose his natural attacking play.

“I thought I’d just stand there,” Sarfaraz says as he reminisces about his unbeaten 71 out of 140, even if it was a losing cause as the Karnataka quicks split all nine wickets among them. “I had been working on my game against swing bowling with my dad for a while. I knew I could play it; I had the confidence. So I decided to stick with the wicket and settle down. But the wicket was such that I scoring was not possible and we also lost wickets. It was one of my best innings, it gave me a lot of confidence.

“In the Mumbai circuit you have to score constantly because there are a lot of players who have scored a lot but they are sitting on the bench. I didn’t think they would remove me from the team, I just knew I had to score, and I was hungry for runs after the cool down.”

“When I hit that triple-hundred I was at 132 against UP [at the end of the third day], and the next day I saw my picture in the paper, that the Ranji trophy was written on my chest, and that I was celebrating my century. After that it became kind of addictive. It was my dream – to lift my bat and helmet into the Mumbai jersey – and that’s not going anywhere. That motivates me enormously.”

Like most addictions, this one has taken Sarfaraz to another level. In between there was a pandemic, a lockdown and a Ranji-less season from 2020-21, but his appetite for big hits did not diminish. For his 153 out of 205, his seventh first-class hundred, in the ongoing quarter-final against Uttarakhand, he started this shortened Ranji season with a 275, followed by 63, 48 and 165 that helped Mumbai to the knockouts.

Sarfaraz is currently miles ahead of his contemporaries in terms of runs scored or batting average in the Ranji Trophy since his return to Mumbai. He has over 1,600 runs in 14 innings, while the next is 1,158; his average is almost 150; and he has an astonishing success rate of over 75 with a monstrous number of limits, 184 fours and 35 sixes.

Sarfaraz, now 24, and his string of high scores don’t just come down to his hunger for running, his love for Mumbai and how he’s been working on his fitness to lose weight. When Sarfaraz was a teenager, Naushad once saw his son looking clueless at swing and fast bowling, aided by dew in an early morning session in Mumbai. The reason? Until then, Naushad had only taken his son to bat in the evenings.

The next day, Naushad changed things and held Sarfaraz’s battle sessions in Cross Maidan, south Mumbai, in the mornings. He also laid a turf in front of their house on the ground floor, where in the evening he first watered Sarfaraz’s field and then had him hit the moving ball. In addition to creating hostile conditions, Naushad Sarfaraz also taught a few things about technique and temperament.

“Like not attacking unnecessarily, not throwing my wicket, defending non-stop in the nets for two hours,” Sarfaraz recalls his lessons. “I’m an attacking player, but if an attacking player develops some patience, he can become really dangerous. There was still a problem in my technique, but my father and I worked a lot on that. So I learned to play on it. wicket and know exactly where my stump is in red ball cricket.

“I would play 600-700 balls every day at Cross Maidan and at home combined, especially against the swinging ball. When T20s come I just hit the nets, like playing the cut and pull. For the cricket of the day [first-class games]I’d focus on leaving the ball because once you get through the first hour or so you can get going and no one can stop an attacking batsman like me.

“To be [the pitch at home] the heaviest wicket I practice on. After playing in places like that when I go to games I don’t find it that hard because this training that I’m going through is really tough – it has bounce, speed, swing, cut, humidity, everything.”

Sarfaraz’s return home also partially coincided with the start of the pandemic. In March 2020, when Sarfaraz was in Madhya Pradesh for a club match after the Ranji season, Naushad felt the government would impose a lockdown. He wiped the dust off his SUV, headed to MP with his other son, Musheer, to pick up Sarfaraz, and drove them all the way UP during the lockdown to have them train on fields and farms for 400-600 balls a day, while the whole world was locked.

That he is reaping the rewards of years of hard work is now reflected in his performance, Sarfaraz says, as he continues to score points against the red ball. He leaves the rest to fate.

“People used to think that Sarfaraz is just a white-ball player because I played Under-19 World Cups and IPL, nobody counted me as a red-ball player,” he says. “But I knew that if I get the opportunities, I can perform because I’ve worked hard for four to five years continuously.

“My job is to make runs. I am very confident that I can continue to score in the Ranji Trophy. If I work more with my father, I can score even more. I never go to bat because I think that I score 200 or 300 I think first of the team what is required of me I go out and play as four overs of each bowler understand their bowling and once the sun comes up and they have lunch then I change my game .”

“I believe a lot in destiny. Even if I go for ducks, I don’t worry about it; I focus on hard work. If it’s written in my destiny [to do well]no one can take it away from me.”

For similar reasons, Sarfaraz is not currently thinking too much about a call-up to India and is making the most of wearing the Mumbai jersey and scoring centuries in the Ranji Trophy.

Vishal Dikshit is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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