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Fluent and fearless: Sarfaraz Khan's long road to a dream debut

After years of waiting, when Khan finally got the Indian Test cap in the ongoing series against England, his father broke down. And then gave his son a standing ovation

Published: Feb 16, 2024 03:44:51 PM IST
Updated: Feb 16, 2024 03:55:53 PM IST

Fluent and fearless: Sarfaraz Khan's long road to a dream debutIndia's Sarfaraz Khan plays a shot during the first day of the third Test cricket match between India and England at Niranjan Shah stadium in Rajkot on February 15, 2024. Image: Punit Paranjpe / AFP
 
After receiving his debut cap ahead of the third Test between India and England at Rajkot, Sarfaraz Khan ran towards the boundary ropes, where his teary-eyed father and wife cheered in pride. Khan hugged his father, Naushad Khan, and handed the prestigious Indian Test cap to him. Naushad kissed the cap and all three of them were teary-eyed.
 
It seemed like a movie scene. Naushad Khan, who aspired to represent India, played competitive cricket for Mumbai but couldn’t make it through. However, he decided to live his dream through his three sons, Sarfaraz Khan, Moin Khan and Musheer Khan. While Sarfaraz and Musheer picked up the bat and ball, Moin decided to venture into the training aspect of the game.
 

Naushad, after his playing days, turned into a coach. He used to train his sons and many other aspiring cricketers in the maidans of Mumbai. From an early age, Naushad ensured his sons were exposed to the cricket environment. From early morning training to a particular diet plan, he made them follow a proper schedule.
 
The lives of the entire Khan family revolved around cricket. All the brothers, mostly Sarfaraz—being the eldest—spent most of their time in maidans working on fitness, batting, bowling and fielding. Seeing Sarfaraz’s unique ability to time the cricket ball at an extremely young age, Naushad’s dream started getting wings.
 
Sarfaraz was just 12 when he scored 439 runs off 421 balls in Haris Shield— Mumbai’s premier school tournament—breaking Sachin Tendulkar’s record for most runs in an innings. This gave a seal of assurance to Naushad, who was now ready to do anything to help his son reach the top level.
 
Sarfaraz had been noticed with his Haris Shield heroics but Naushad didn’t want him to stop there. He further strengthened his training schedule by setting up a synthetic turf around his house in Kurla, ensuring Sarfraz didn’t miss his practice during the monsoon season. Even when they travelled to Azamgarh, Uttar Pradesh—Naushad’s birthplace—the training didn’t stop. He would take a few other young players along with him to accompany Sarfaraz in training.
 
Sarfaraz was on his way to living his father’s dream. He made it to the India U-19 team in 2014, scored quite a few runs in the tournament and earned an Indian Premier League (IPL) contract with Royal Challengers Bangalore in 2015. He played his second U-19 World Cup in 2016 and again did really well—ending as the second-highest run-getter of the tournament. He showed promise with his quick cameos in the IPL as well.
 
The right-handed batter was doing almost everything right. The Indian cap didn’t seem too far from his grasp. But suddenly, things changed. Questions about his fitness started making the rounds. Before he could prove the critics wrong, he faced an injury in 2017, making him miss a lot of cricket, including the entire IPL season in 2017.
 
This kind of pushed him off the radar. He even changed his base in domestic cricket—
shifting from Mumbai to Uttar Pradesh. Although he continued to do well in the Ranji Trophy—the premier Indian domestic tournament—his performances were not impactful enough in IPL. From being a prodigy, who was expected to play for India at an early age, Sarfaraz suddenly became part of the crowd, joining the many other domestic players.
 
He and his father, however, were not ready to give up. Sarfaraz kept working on his fitness and batting. He started piling up even more runs in domestic cricket—century after century. But somehow, he was still not earning a call-up to the Indian team. The 26-year-old was getting desperate but his hunger for runs was intact.

Also read: Amid India's batting galaxy, Jasprit Bumrah emerges as the lone bowling star
 
With 928 runs in the 2019-20 edition of the Ranji Trophy and 982 in the 2021-22 season, Sarfaraz gained an average of 82.83, being second just to legendary Don Bradman in first-class cricket. However, despite such amazing numbers, the batter was still not included in the national team while a few others with lower numbers got through.
 
The wait was getting longer but as his father told broadcasters: “Raat ko waqt do guzarne ke liye, sooraj apne hi samay pe niklega (Let the night pass at its own pace, the sun will still rise on the set time!)”. Destiny had indeed planned a perfect time for Sarfaraz’s dream to come true.
 
After a few injuries in the Indian camp, Sarfaraz was added to India’s squad for the ongoing Test series against England. He finally got his debut cap on Thursday. Emotions ran high and tears were all around but now the challenge was to show the world what he was capable of in the first outing itself.
 
He was supposed to bat at number five but India lost three quick wickets in the first session, prompting them to promote left-handed Ravindra Jadeja up the order. Sarfaraz was padded up but had to wait another four hours before he could finally walk down the green carpet and take the strike to represent his country on the international stage.
 
“I was padded up for almost four hours! I kept thinking that I had kept so much patience in life and there was no harm in waiting some more,” he said after the day’s play.
 
Sarfaraz had faced so many challenges in his life and playing career but it all had come down to this day. All eyes were on him. Critics were still highlighting his body weight. Many were unsure if he could convert his domestic heroics on the international stage, given the pressure of the level. The youngster must have had all these questions running in his mind.

Fluent and fearless: Sarfaraz Khan's long road to a dream debutIndia's Sarfaraz Khan (L) greets his father before his debut match at the Niranjan Shah stadium formerly known as Saurashtra Cricket Association in Rajkot on February 15, 2024, before the start of third Test cricket match between India and England. Image: Punit Paranjpe / AFP
 
He would have wanted to calm himself down a bit but he was straightaway facing thunderbolts from Mark Wood, the English speedster known for bowling at an excess of 145kmph speeds. The nervousness was apparent on Sarfaraz’s face. His father seemed equally anxious while watching from the stands.
 
“Initially, I was feeling awkward since I had been anticipating this moment for a long time, but later on, I felt that I had done all of this so once I was in my zone, I did not find it difficult,” Khan said.
 
After facing some balls, he soon got into his zone. He was now sweeping the ball, coming down the wicket, not just to spinners, but to a veteran pacer like James Anderson too. The fluency, stroke-play, fearlessness—it was all on display. In no time, he reached his fifty in just 48 balls. As he raised his bat to celebrate, his father gave him a standing ovation while his wife blew kisses. They were bursting with pride.
 
The day’s play was nearing the end but Sarfaraz was unfazed—hitting boundaries for fun. It seemed that he would soon get to his 100 but unfortunately, he was run out on 62 (66) because of a mix-up with Ravindra Jadeja. He received huge cheers and applause from the crowd as he walked back.
 
He must have imagined this moment countless times, more for his father than himself. Living it felt like a dream too. “It was my father’s dream to play for India but unfortunately it couldn’t happen due to some reasons and there wasn’t much support from home (for him) then. He then worked very hard on me and is now doing [the same] for my brother. It was the proudest moment of my life,” he said.

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