In his initial years, Sarfaraz Khan faced a lot of setbacks including his fitness issues and a slump in domestic form. However, he has now bounced back to his prime piling up runs from the last couple of years in first-class cricket and might get a place in the Indian Test team in the future.
With the evolution of Test cricket, the batting template in the longest format has changed massively. There is this constant talk of ‘Bazball’ with the new approach adopted by the England team in Tests since the start of the coaching tenure of Brendon McCullum. But this isn’t the start of the shorter formats rubbing on red-ball cricket. It started a few years back and Test cricket has completely shifted to fast-paced cricket now. Jonny Bairstow’s centuries in the New Zealand series might be looked at as the final step in the process. Although we might see a few like Cheteswar Pujara in international cricket in the coming years the teams will be looking for their own ‘ Rishabh Pants’ who can make an impact and change the direction of the match in just one session. Considering this scenario and the possible need of adding attacking players to the Test squad highlights their importance. Players like Virender Sehwag or Sanath Jayasuriya played a key role for their teams as they counter-attacked bowlers. Sehwag’s attack against Ajantha Mendis when he was troubling most of the India batters is still remembered.
Such kinds of players have a special place in Test cricket and India might also need more in the future. Also, they have one such player in domestic cricket currently and many former cricketers have vouched for giving him an opportunity in the national team. Sarfaraz Khan is the name who has turned out to be a run-scoring machine in the last couple of years in first-class cricket but his journey till now has been a tough one.
Sarfaraz showed his spark for the first time in Harris Shield Trophy with a knock of 439 runs and continued to shine at the junior level. He faced a few roadblocks after that but emerged to be a magnificent first-class cricketer. Sarfaraz's cricketing world is a collection of sour memories as well as sweet ones but nothing including fitness struggles, a break from first-class cricket, warming the bench for IPL teams and the recent pandemic has stopped him from continuously striving to achieve his goal and the young right-handed batter credits his father for hunger to pile up hundreds after hundreds.
"All credit must go to abbu (dad) because he's worked a lot with me. Whenever we had offseason or in lockdown, we'd take car and travel almost 3000 km to play cricket. My village is in Uttar Pradesh. So Madhya Pradesh is close by, then from there (we go to) Mathura, (and then) Ghaziabad. Everywhere there are a lot of academies where we stop for 2-3 days to play matches. Cricket also keeps going on and we get to read wickets also, the differences between black and red soil,” he had said recently according to Cricbuzz.
The last two Ranji Trophy seasons have been a masterclass from Sarfaraz. He has piled up more than 900 runs each season (928 runs in 2019-20 and 982 in 2021-22). Not only he was the top run-getter in the recent season but he was heading the second batter in the list with more than 200 runs. Also, he has become only the third player to score more than 900 runs in a Ranji Trophy season twice and the first to do it in successive editions. Also, he has scored 2530 first-class runs with an average of 81.61 which is impressive considering he has played 37 innings.
The youngster has maintained an unreal consistency in the last couple of years and Mumbai have benefitted from it. He has also pulled them out of tough situations multiple times while batting at number five. In the group game against Saurashtra, Mumbai were reduced to 44/3 but he stitched a crucial partnership with Ajinkya Rahane during his knock of 275 runs and helped the team post a total of 544/7. Another occasion came against Odisha when they were on 76/3 but Sarfaraz’s knock of 165 helped them win the game. Sarfaraz has scored 532 IPL runs at a strike rate of 137.82 which shows his potential to excel at a big level.
Many former cricketers and cricket experts have praised the youngster saying he is banging the door of the Indian team. But, fitting him in the playing XI by replacing one of the current cricketers might be a very tough choice. Rishabh Pant and Ravindra Jadeja have displayed sublime form in recent times and Shreyas Iyer’s position is the only place where Sarfaraz can replace him. Shreyas Iyer has showcased problems against pacey short-pitched bowling in recent times and so if he fails, Sarfaraz will be ready to replace him. Shreyas hasn’t played much of Test cricket yet and so he is to be tested against pacers who will trouble him with their speed and bounce. Also, how we will know Sarfaraz’s capability to face international bowlers without putting him into the battle. Also, his presence in the lower order can result in two left-handers Rishabh Pant and Ravindra Jadeja having a right-handed companion to make the most favoured left-right combination by batting teams.
However, looking at Sarfaraz as a future prospect might be a more easy alternative. Indian cricket have a lot of depth considering the number of players they have all over the country and so the team sometimes simultaneously plays two different series. A recent example of this was when a second-string Indian team was playing a T20I series against Ireland while first-choice players were preparing for a one-off Test against England. Sarfaraz can be definitely played in such situations when the second-string team will be playing. Also, he can be given an opportunity against teams like Sri Lanka or Bangladesh where the teams are relatively weaker and senior players rest during these tournaments most of the time. Currently, India A can be the best destination for the right-handed youngster and he can polish his game and hone his skills to face the best of the bowlers in upcoming years.
Sarfaraz has mentioned in an interview with Aakash Chopra that he expected his selection in the national team and it has hurt him in the past. His expectation isn’t only based on emotions but his recent stats in the domestic years vouch for his national selection. It seems to be the most suitable way of grooming him through A team and tours to minnow countries at the moment.