Oct 6, 2022: Surely Sarfaraz Khan cannot do anything more to lay a strong claim to be in India’s Test squad. In the just concluded Irani Trophy match he got his tenth century in First Class cricket and he has played just 29 such games. His career average is a mind boggling and eye rubbing 81.33. His hunger for big scores knows no limits for while he has ten hundreds, he has only eight fifties. This kind of conversion rate is unheard of and his insatiable appetite for runs is highlighted by the fact that his average is next only to Don Bradman’s 95.14 among batsmen who have scored nearly 3000 runs.
In these days of a surfeit of limited overs cricket, where the focus is on players who excel in these formats it is rare to come across a young cricketer who is seen as a specialist Test prospect. That, in itself, makes Sarfaraz special. Add to his stats the manner in which he bats – based on supreme technical skills and a monk like concentration – and it is easy to see why he is rated so highly. Sunil Gavaskar, a master technician himself in the traditional format is all excited talking about him while advocating his inclusion in the Indian Test team at the earliest opportunity.
To be candid given his achievements in First Class cricket Sarfaraz should have already been given his Test cap even if admittedly the middle order has a house full board on it and there is competition from a couple of other youngsters. But none of them has the label Test cricketer attached to his name as firmly as Sarfaraz. No one even talks about him as a ODI or T-20 cricketer. He has been born for and made for the traditional format and this is what makes him exceptional. But why will he not be a much talked about cricketer with the figures that he has notched up which includes a career best of 301 not out.
If anything, Sarfaraz is getting better and better. In the last Ranji Trophy season, he was the star of Mumbai making the title round where they went down to Madhya Pradesh scoring 982 runs with four hundreds. This made him the first player to hit 900 plus runs in successive editions of the premier national competition. In 2019-20 (the Ranji Trophy was not held in 2020 – 21 because of Covid) Sarfaraz notched up 928 runs. Moreover, his average of 82 in the Ranji Trophy across 23 games is the third highest for any player who has scored 2000 plus runs with only Vijay Merchant (98.35) and Sachin Tendulkar (87.37) running up higher averages across 87 editions of the Ranji Trophy since 1934-35.
The stats – and the style with which he has run up such an amazing record – confirm his class and skill but it is his rise from humble beginnings that underlines Sarfaraz’s hunger for success. It’s really been a roller coaster of a ride and as he admitted after his century in the Ranji Trophy final, he would not have been there but for his beloved `abbu’ (father). Hailing from a modest background Sarfaraz, accompanied by his father, used to travel by local trains to the grounds for practice and playing matches. “Abbu and I started my cricket journey from absolutely nothing. When I started playing cricket I dreamt of scoring a century for Mumbai in the Ranji Trophy. That was fulfilled. Then I had another dream of getting a hundred in a Ranji final. That is why I got emotional and had tears in my eyes because my father has worked very hard. All the credit for my success goes to him. Without him I would be nothing. I have had my troubled times but he has never left my side.” His father Naushad Khan also doubles up as his coach.
After two successive seasons of 900 plus runs Sarfaraz is firmly on the radar of the national selectors. However, he is focused on the present. “As far as selection to the Indian team is concerned I am working hard. Right now my focus is only to score runs. Every person has dreams. It will happen if it is written in my destiny.” Frankly it will be impossible to overlook him any further. He is an ideal blend of talent, technique and temperament. He has all the strokes and an impeccable defense. With these credentials it is only a matter of time before he is given a Test cap.
Actually, Sarfaraz has already worn the Indian cap having represented the Under-19 team in the World Cup in the UAE in 2014 where he impressed in getting 211 runs from six games at an average of 70.33. Two years later he finished as the second highest scorer in the Under-19 World Cup in Bangladesh with 355 runs from six matches, frequently rescuing India from faltering starts. Clearly Sarfaraz is the man for the big occasion as he waits for his biggest reward – the India cap which should come his way when India take on Bangladesh in the Test series next month.
(Partab Ramchand is a veteran sports journalist, the views expressed here are personal.)