It’s the new word doing the rounds in the cricket circuit these days: Sarfarazesque. It doesn’t roll off the tongue as easily as Bradmanesque does, but Sarfaraz Khan will take it. After all, his job, as spelt out by his father Naushad Khan, is “to keep scoring runs, for whichever team, all the time”. Since his second coming, so to say, he has been doing it in first-class cricket better than most others ever do.
The ‘A’ tour of Bangladesh didn’t go well for him, but Sarfaraz has since hit three centuries in seven Ranji Trophy innings, following on from his tally of 928 runs from nine innings at 154.66 and 982 runs from nine innings at 122.75 in the two previous Ranji seasons. There were seven centuries in there, including a triple-hundred, against Uttar Pradesh, in January 2020. The latest big one, an innings of 125 in 155 balls, came in a stuttering Mumbai batting effort in Delhi yesterday, when the next best score was Prithvi Shaw’s 40, and the team totalled just 293.
The first-class average of 80.47 from 36 matches (before the latest century) was always going to bring Don Bradman into the discussion, and it did after play on Tuesday. “It gives me happiness that I have been close to his [Bradman’s] record in the last three seasons,” he said. “It won’t always be the same, but I am happy to be around him right now.” For the record, while Bradman averaged 99.94 in Tests, his first-class average was marginally lower, at 95.14.
With numbers like these, it’s understandable that there has been a clamour to give him a chance at the Test level. Of late, whenever an Indian Test squad has been announced, and he has not featured in it, eyebrows have been raised. On January 13, when the squad for the first two Tests against Australia was named, the general feeling was: what more does Sarfaraz need to do? It crossed his mind too.
“My father came [to Delhi] a couple of days ago, and I trained with him for two days in Ghaziabad [near Delhi] before the game. He knew I was upset [at not being selected],” Sarfaraz said. “So he said, ‘Our job is to keep scoring runs, for whichever team, all the time’. Since I was a child, whenever I have been a bit confused, or things have not gone right, he does the same thing, he just motivates me and gives me confidence, and prepares me mentally.”
Sarfaraz’s fitness could be one of the reasons for his continued omission from the Test side. At the same time, it’s also true that while he has monster numbers in the Ranji Trophy, and first-class cricket in general, he hasn’t always sparkled when given the opportunity at the India A level. In six ‘A’ games so far, Sarfaraz has just 205 runs at an average of 34.16. Just before the Ranji season started, he scored 21 and 0 in his two innings on the tour of Bangladesh.
“A human being can’t be successful all the time,” he said when asked about the ‘A’ numbers. “When I played my first match for India A, I scored 71 not out [in Bloemfontein]. The other players got out, otherwise I could have scored a century. But yes, I was dismissed cheaply a few times. After that, in the series against New Zealand A, I was out early once and scored 60 in another innings.
“It has happened a few times that the lower-order batters have got out quickly, and I didn’t have the opportunity to score more. I will keep trying to improve my numbers for India A too.”
On the subject of his fitness, Sarfaraz said, “In December last year, Delhi Capitals [his IPL team] had conducted a 14-day fitness camp, so their players are prepared for the season. So I have been at it since then, working to make sure my fitness is up there. Keeping in mind the next IPL, the focus of the Delhi Capitals team is on the fitness of the players, especially me.”