Sarfaraz Khan: A dangal against adversity

Devendra Pandey
Sarfaraz Khan, Sarfaraz Khan double hundred, Sarfaraz Khan triple hundred, Sarfaraz Khan Ranji Trophy, Sarfaraz Khan Mumbai Ranji Trophy, Mumbai vs Himachal Pradesh 2020

Sarfaraz Khan struck 32 fours and four sixes in his 226 off 213 deliveries. (Source: HPCA)

Apni life Dangal hai, full Dangal

Maa ke pet se marghat tak / hai teri kahaani pag pag pyare / dangal dangal, dangal dangal / sooraj tera charhta dhalta / gardish mein karte hain tare / dangal dangal, dangal dangal

Every morning, Sarfaraz Khan wakes up to the booming vocals of Daler Mehndi from the movie Dangal (wrestling arena). From womb to tomb, so the song goes, life is a wrestling arena. The song speaks of struggle and inspiration—and it's the song of his life right now. He says he sleeps to the song as well.

There is a burning desire to catch up on the lost years—Sarfaraz shifted to Uttar Pradesh four years ago but returned to play for Mumbai this season after a year of cooling-off period – there is a hunger to prove the world wrong, and an ambition to waltz to the big stage once again.

Son of a cricket-crazy father and coach Naushad, whose dream in life is to see his kids play for India, Sarfaraz believes he is Geeta and his youngest brother Musheer, who plays for Mumbai U-19, is Babita in this Dangal of cricket. They are characters from the movie, based on a real-life wrestling family, but Sarfaraz sees in them a reflection of his own life.

Four days ago, Sarfaraz hit an unbeaten 301 after batting for almost two days against Uttar Pradesh.

“God is great, Dad is great” is an oft-repeated expression from him these days. And why not? “Even when I gave up in the dark days, he didn’t,” he says.

Four days ago, Sarfaraz hit an unbeaten 301 after batting for almost two days against Uttar Pradesh. On Monday, lest it be construed that it was just an effort of spite against Uttar Pradesh, a team he had reason to hold grudges against, he came up with an unbeaten 226 against Himachal Pradesh. Mumbai were wobbling at 74 for 4 when Sarfaraz imperiously first pulled them to safety and then to a position of strength at 372 for 5 at stumps. An aggregate of 527 runs, and still counting, without being dismissed. Then he played some football as a cool-down exercise after the day’s play in Dharamshala.

Isn’t he tired? Laughter before an anecdotal explanation. “In the early days of my career, my father used to make me run several laps of Azad Maidan in unbearable humid summer. Back then, I used to think, yeh sab karke kya hoga. Kahan kaam aayega. Sometimes, I would object and would get slapped, sometimes spend the entire day without food. All that toil under the sun has made my legs strong. And I am now reaping the benefits. God is great, Dad is great!” Sarfaraz told The Indian Express.

Sarfaraz Khan, Sarfaraz Khan double hundred, Sarfaraz Khan triple hundred, Sarfaraz Khan Ranji Trophy, Sarfaraz Khan Mumbai Ranji Trophy, Mumbai vs Himachal Pradesh 2020

Sarfaraz Khan signals to the crowd after reaching his double hundred (Source: BCCI Domestic/Twitter)

Maidan regulars would often comment on Naushad’s strict ways. Sometimes, Sarfaraz would sleep in a tent at the ground so that he doesn’t waste time travelling in the morning Mumbai traffic. Sleep cricket, wake up to more cricket. At times, he would wonder about the futility of it all but would keep those thoughts to himself.

“I used to see many children accompanying their parents, they used to take care of them. Some used to come by car and I would think they didn’t have to endure hardships. Now once you start achieving success, I feel God is great, Dad is great.” That line again. Sarfaraz hails from Rizvi Springfield, a school famous for its cricketers. His contemporaries are India opener Prithvi Shaw and Armaan Jaffer. In the man’s world, Shaw has seemingly left behind Khan and Armaan, nephew of Wasim Jaffer and son of another cricket-crazy father. Perhaps, as Vinod Kambli once said about himself and Sachin Tendulkar, ‘he took the elevator, I am taking the staircase’.

There weren’t many doubters of Sarfaraz's talent, but every now and then, whispers about his ‘attitude’ would surface. His father would stand in the corridors outside MCA officials’ cabins to request them to show leniency.

“Life has revolved only around cricket, life started and ended in Azad Maidan. I didn't go to school daily, didn't meet people much. Sometimes, people say, ‘leave a child alone during their struggling days, they will learn from their own mistakes. Something like that has happened with me. Life teaches you what is right and wrong. There is a difference between the earlier Sarfaraz and now. I would say I am more mature now,” he says.

Matured game

Maturity not just in behaviour but in his game too. Sarfaraz has already shown hitherto-unseen patience, skill in shot selection, and the ability to play to the demands of a game. And that has resulted in improved innings-building. However, Sarfaraz says this confidence wasn't there in the not-so-distant past as nothing went right after he switched back to Mumbai from Uttar Pradesh. He tore his knee ligaments, and cricket took a backseat for the next few months.

“I came back to serve a cooling-off period in Mumbai. I felt life had suddenly taken a pause. I was in a tricky situation, twice I had been selected for India under-19, I had been part of IPL and the Ranji Trophy team before and suddenly everything looked to be fading away. Frustration increased and I would think, ‘why is this happening to me?'

“I was a bit depressed. You have played decent cricket, been an IPL player, represented your state – and then pause, you are going nowhere. My father, however, kept hope. Frankly, even I didn’t have it. Seeing my father’s belief, I thought, 'kuch to hai andar mere mein, jo baahar nahin aa raha (There is something inside me that is struggling to come out). My father certainly believed it and we were doing all the hard work but the rewards were missing,” Sarfaraz says.

Luckily, the wheels started to turn. Once he regained fitness, he was picked for the Mumbai U-23 team. It wasn’t IPL or Ranji Trophy but he knew it was something he needed to do to turn his life around. If not for himself, for his father. Later, came the unbeaten 71 against a challenging Karnataka Ranji attack and the 22-year old hasn’t looked back since. “I am very thankful to Mumbai Cricket Association for showing faith and giving me a chance in this Ranji Trophy season.”

The best thing to come out of the tough phase is the maturity that came along with the runs.

“I was playing my first big match against Karnataka and was out for 8. I felt I didn’t have it it me, I can’t do this anymore. A fleeting thought but I managed to stub it out. Then came the 71 in the second innings— and that changed my self-perception. A voice rose within me that I definitely have something, a talent, that people don’t know. I can show that I am a red-ball player. All those words of hope and the belief my father showed in me were now coming from within myself.”

The best thing to come out of this phase is the maturity that came along with the runs. He says he now realises that there is no point in fighting with the world. He has to do it for himself and his father. Back in those days, the father-son duo would sell track pants and the money earned would supplement the income from Railways (Naushad is a Class 4 employee) and go into the running of Macho Cricket Club, based on a nickname he earned for a diving catch. Naushad punctuates his conversations with shayari and it seems, his son has now picked up the trait. One of his father’s lines runs thus: “Tum phool ko chutki se masal sakte ho lekin khushboo ko bikharne se kahan rok sakoge? (you can easily stub out a flower but you can’t stop its fragrance from spreading).

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As the conversation winds up, Sarfaraz serves one for the road: “Rakh hausla woh manzar bhi aayega, pyaasey ke paas samundar bhi aayega” (keep the resolve, that sight will appear; the sea will come to the thirsty). He doesn't say the next two lines of that poem, but one can sense he hopes his journey continues like that. ‘Thak kar na baith ae manzil ke musafir. Manzil bhi milegi aur milne ka mazaa bhi aayega’. (Don’t sit tired, oh traveller, you will not only reach your destination but also experience the joy and fun of getting there).

Brief Scores: Mumbai 372/5 (Sarfaraz Khan 226 not out, Aditya Tare 62; Vaibhav Arora 2-28) v/s Himachal Pradesh.