New Sensation Sarfaraz Khan
At first sight, Sarfaraz Khan strikes you as any normal Indian teenager. Plump, chubby and bubbling with energy. But, when he has a cricket bat in hand, one realizes that Sarfaraz is anything but a normal Indian teenager.
At Royal Challengers Bangalore’s first game of IPL 2016, Sarfaraz gave everyone a glimpse into his abnormality by striking a brilliant 10-ball 35 that pushed RCB to 227. Coming in after a wonderful platform had been set by AB de Villiers and Virat Kohli, Sarfaraz found a nice arc for himself behind the wicket, as he took Bhuvneshwar Kumar to the cleaners.
Sarfaraz’s first tryst with the news was as a 12-year old when he scored 439 in a school game in the Harris Shield in Mumbai.
My first glimpse of Sarfaraz’s precocious talent came in the U-19 World Cup in 2014. In his first game of the tournament, against Pakistan, Sarfaraz walked in with India in a spot of bother at 94/4 in the 20th over. The pressure was further built by the fact that he couldn’t get off the mark in the first 15 balls that he faced.
What followed was what I’ve now grown accustomed to seeing Sarfaraz do. He swept, he drove inside out, he didn’t give an iota of thought before taking the game to Pakistan. He ended with an almost run-a-ball 74, and followed that up by taking a wicket and grabbing four catches.
In two years after that World Cup, Sarfaraz has made most of India sit up and take notice of his talent. He was snapped up by RCB at last year’s IPL Auction, and made an impression with a few eye-catching cameos. All of Chris Gayle, AB de Villiers and Virat Kohli keep reminding us during the course of their interviews of the incredible talent that Sarfaraz is.
People will argue that Sarfaraz might not have the technique to cut it out at the highest level of the game. But what he lacks in orthodox technique, he makes up for with brilliant hands, an uncanny cricketing intelligence and for now, the exuberance of youth.
He isn’t all slam bang. At the U-19 World Cup earlier this year – his second, Sarfaraz showed what a calm head he has on his shoulders. He batted at no. 4, and almost always came into bat after India had lost two early wickets in testing conditions. What he did in every game was absorb the pressure for the first 30-40 balls, and then unleash his full range of strokes. He finished with five 50s in six innings and amassed 355 runs at an average of 71.
Sarfaraz’s range of strokes is not the range of strokes a coach would want his ward to play. He paddles, reverse-paddles, sweeps and looks ungainly very often, but that is where his strength lies. His self-belief and confidence in his ability is rare for a 18-year old.
His father, Naushad is his coach, and by Sarfaraz’s own admission, the biggest influence in his life. All the hours of hard work on the Maidans of Mumbai have paid off so far, but there is a long way to go.
For now, Sarfaraz is the apple of the eye for everyone at RCB, and for Indian cricket’s sake, one can only hope that such a rare talent does not fall by the wayside.