Figure this: Chasing 626 to gain lead, Mumbai is struggling at 128 for the loss of four wickets with two days to survive. What would you do in such a situation? A traditionalist will opt to block, leave and wait for the loose deliveries to score. Sarfaraz Khan, however, follows a different template. Even under the pump, his bat sticks out for upper cuts to clear the third man boundary and the long stop. The Mumbai boy plays it a split-second late for smooth execution.
Sarfaraz’s unbeaten 301 off 394 balls against Uttar Pradesh in the Ranji Trophy match, that brought Mumbai back from the dead, stamps his eccentricity. More for the shots that defy the classical learning. It all started with the Indian Premier League when he started scooping international bowlers. The right-hander is a blend of 360 degree batting and hand-and-eye coordination. But against the spinners, he prefers the classical dance down the track.
There is a story behind the Mad Max approach. He learnt these shots from his father and coach, Naushad, who aspired to play in the Ranji but remained on the fringes. He is fulfilling his cricketing ambitions through his sons, Sarfaraz and Musheer. “I used to play these shots as a youngster. He saw me and picked it up. I was in the Ranji Trophy probables around the year 2000. Nobody used to play these kind of shots. I remember once I had got a chance to bat at the Mumbai nets. Then, Ashok Mankad sir came and scolded me and told me not to play these shots in four-day cricket.
“But whenever I have played club cricket, I have played these shots. I have seen that entire Mumbai maidan cricket culture, and these shots used to be very effective to score runs. I was a left-hander,” the 49-year-old Naushad tells Sportstar.
Sarfaraz celebrates scoring his triple hundred in the Ranji Trophy against UP. Photo: Vivek Bendre
Aware of the consequences of not sticking to grammar, Naushad never encouraged Sarfaraz to show the street-smart skill against every bowler.
“I had warned him not to go for these shots as it backfired in my case. I remember telling him, ‘ye sab shots nahi khelne ka, isse mujhe kafi nuksaan hua hai’ (don’t play such shots, I have suffered a lot for playing like that) but his confidence is on a different level now,” he says, adding, “When you know that the fielders at the back are all inside, it is easier to hit over those areas. If you can time the ball, you can get easy runs through the scoop and upper cut. It is risky. He can get injured but he has practised it for a long time.”
The home training
Naushad built an artificial turf at his Kurla residence to clear Sarfaraz’s doubts at home. Ahead of the Ranji Trophy 2019-20, which marked his comeback to Mumbai — he had moved to Uttar Pradesh for one season — he was up against a different sort of challenge.
Still active in Mumbai’s Kanga League, Naushad threw hard balls, soft balls, swinging deliveries and spin to train Sarfaraz. “My maidan experience helps him. I know how to swing the ball, spin and how to bowl yorkers. We followed a routine before the tournament.”
Two years ago, both the father and son had walked away with laurels in the Kanga League. Representing Payyade Sports Club, Sarfaraz was the best batsman in the A division with 284 runs in four games, while slow left-arm bowler Naushad was the best bowler in the B division for Young Mohammedan by claiming 19 wickets in five games.
The pre-season training has turned Sarfaraz into steel. “Abhi tension nahi hai, he won’t get out to an upper cut. He developed the passion and hunger by playing in the home turf.”
‘It’s the IPL lesson’
Raju Pathak, Sarfaraz’s coach in Rizvi Springfield School, reveals that the batsman never indulged in such shots earlier. But he would score a lot of double hundreds in school tournaments.
“I think he must have developed it from the IPL. I think he matured from the IPL, and he doesn’t get out to the scoop shot easily if you have seen. At the bigger stage, Ranji or India A, you can only play those shots if you are confident enough,” he says.
The rain-marred match against Himachal snatched a record from Sarfaraz. He was on course to score his second triple ton in consecutive games. And yet again, he was not out (on 226 off 213 balls) after taking guard at 16/3.
This IPL 2020, watch out for Sarfaraz. The shots will only get better.