Mumbai batter Sarfaraz Khan’s 401-ball 275 against Saurashtra on day two of a Ranji Trophy match in Ahmedabad was at once an exercise in audacity and judiciousness. It was an innings that started off on a promising note, got better as it progressed, and by the end left those watching it frantically short of superlatives. There were some serenely timed shots and some outrageous ones. And just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, it got better again.
HIGHLIGHTS - Ranji Trophy, Round 1, Day 2
There was a moment in the final session when Sarfaraz, visibly fatigued after an energy-sapping double, played a cover drive off Prerak Mankad, full of elegance for four. The timing on the cut shot that followed next was so good, and the placement so finely-tuned, that neither the backward point, nor the third man closing in on the ball had a chance of stopping it.
The effortlessness behind both those shots belied a player who just in the previous drinks break had slumped to his haunches with his head in his hands and needed some routine medical attention. Or a player, who after pulling a ball to fine leg, looked too exhausted to complete a routine single, paused mid pitch watching the fielder for a few seconds, before eventually completing the run.
By now, it was evident that an innings that had lasted more than 300 balls was starting to take its toll on Sarfaraz. The running between the wickets wasn’t as hard and the glove punches with his batting partner between overs were now a mere formality. But Sarfaraz was doing just enough to keep the Saurashtra bowlers at bay, who by now had spent most of the first two days in the field.
It wasn’t a chanceless knock either. There was a close-catching opportunity at silly point on the first day that went begging and numerous lbw appeals that were denied on day two. At one point, it was utter chaos in the middle. Prerak Mankad and Jaydev Unadkat belted out one appeal after another only to return to their bowling mark in despair. But amid this chaos, Sarfaraz found the balance between aggression and discipline.
In one Unadkat over on Friday, Sarfaraz was rapped on the pads. Everyone in the field was convinced it was out, including Cheteshwar Pujara, who was at mid-off and had been unmoved during previous appeals. Everyone except the umpire.
The very next ball, Sarfaraz attempted the scoop, lost his shape but went ahead with the shot and collected four runs. The next ball was wide and full, Sarfaraz slashed hard and sent it to the third-man fence. With one ball left in the over and Sarfaraz on strike, one would think he would look to defend. But Sarfaraz went down on one knee and was struck on the pad again, attempting the scoop. Unadkat let out what was perhaps the loudest and most desperate plea of the day but to no avail. Sarfaraz twirled the bat in his hand and casually walked over to the non-striker’s end.
On day one, when Sarfaraz reached his fifty after grafting diligently for over an hour, someone from the Mumbai dugout yelled out - “ Bahut kaam hai abhi. Bahut saara baki hai .” Sarfaraz, who by now was done celebrating his fifty, turned to the dugout once again and waved his bat hard one more time, as if to say ‘message received.’ The next day and a half, Sarfaraz went about his job like a batting zen, with unwavering drive and focus.