Sarfaraz Khan hit eight sixes and 30 fours as Mumbai made 688 for seven in the first innings. (Express photo by Ganesh Shirsekar)
It was more than just a game of cricket for Sarfaraz Khan against Uttar Pradesh. His celebrations after he brought up the 200-run landmark could be termed wildly exuberant. On a roller-coaster ride, as it were, he couldn’t even stop himself to hug his partner but kept running towards the boundary line. He had one hand on his chest, tugging at Mumbai’s lion crest emblem, screaming – but his eyes were firmly on the Uttar Pradesh dressing room.
The context of that look is this: He had left Mumbai to play for Uttar Pradesh four-and-a-half years ago but felt he wasn’t given enough opportunities in his new team, returned to Mumbai, waited out the cooling-off period before being selected again. All in all, three years down a rabbit hole. All that pent-up emotion was on display in that manic screaming run.
When he reached 300 with a six – a marathon innings that dragged Mumbai out of a hole and got them the first-innings lead – he went down on his knees. Later in the day, the 22-year-old explained how he had high fever after the opening day’s play and that the team doctor had advised him not to come out to bat. Sarfaraz ignored it as it was more than a game to him.
For all the emotion, what caught the eye of seasoned cricket-watchers was the immense patience he showed during the knock. For a batsman known to hit big but not for stitching patient knocks, this was a revelation.
But one man wasn’t surprised. In fact, if anything that aspect gave the greatest thrill to Sarfaraz’s father-and-coach Naushad.
“It was how we trained him this season. We had a wet sponge ball and would fire it really fast from short distance – and Sarfraz had to leave most of it. Around 1,000 balls in a training session. The aim was to train his mind to just leave, learn patience, almost re-work his natural urges to feel for the ball,” Naushad told this newspaper.
Signs of change
The excited father showed a video of the training that validated his statement. Short distance, bowlers firing the ball at high pace, and Sarfaraz shouldering arms. Again, and again. Naushad felt the first signs of change came when his son competently handled a decent Karnataka pace attack on a green wicket for an unbeaten 71.
That emotional celebratory run was his punch-back at the Uttar Pradesh cricket establishment. The stories of perceived neglect are quite a few. Here is one of them: He once scored 70 at No.3 in the Syed Mushtaq Ali tournament but was made to bat at No.7 in the next game, without any explanation forthcoming. Stuff like that had accumulated and burst out during this grudge match.
Those who have followed Sarfaraz since his school days must have been surprised and thrilled with the application he showed. The intention was quite evident when he lost his cool after number seven Shams Mulani played a pull shot and was dropped.
Resuming on 353 for 5, Mumbai still needed 273 runs on the final day to secure the first-innings lead. The hosts had Tare on 9 while Sarfaraz was batting on 132. Uttar Pradesh tried the short-ball tactic frequently against Sarfaraz but he refused to buckle.
After the first hour that the pair saw out, it increasingly became clear that Uttar Pradesh didn’t have much of a chance to come back into the contest. Sarfaraz brought up his double hundred after lunch and though the visitors managed to get the much-needed breakthrough from their part-timer Rinku Singh as Tare edged to slip, Sarfaraz pulled down the shutters again.
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When the Mumbai skipper departed, they still needed 108 runs to take the first-innings lead. Uttar Pradesh had an opportunity when Mulani pulled Ankit Rajpoot and the ball limped towards square-leg where Almas Shaukat got his hands to it but couldn’t hold on. Mumbai needed another 86 runs then. It was the only chance Mumbai gave the entire day.
Uttar Pradesh did try to waste time, bowling 31 balls in 40 minutes after tea but it didn’t work as Sarfaraz played a few strokes all round the ground. Mulani too chipped in by finding the boundary despite the presence of men on the rope.
Sarfaraz’s maiden unbeaten triple hundred came off 391 balls with 30 fours and eight sixes.
A total of 1,313 runs were scored in four days of Ranji Trophy cricket and only 15 wickets fell. In the game which showcased courage and fightback, it also said much about the pitch.
Those following Sarfaraz since school days weren’t surprised by his landmark achievement. After all, he hails from a traditional school Rizvi Springfield, which in the past has broken various school records. His contemporaries are Prithvi Shaw, who has gone on to play for India, but Sarfaraz seemed to have fallen behind. Time will tell whether his second innings with Mumbai will bring in more favourable results.
Brief Scores: Uttar Pradesh first innings 625 for eight declared vs Mumbai first innings 688 for seven (Sarfaraz Khan 301 not out; Siddesh Lad 98, Aditya Tare 97; Ankit Rajpoot 3-133).
Points: Mumbai 3, Uttar Pradesh 1.