Sarfaraz Khan has a bit of an idea about what it takes to perform under pressure. Over the last few years, the 25-year-old has been Mumbai’s run machine in the Ranji Trophy, and Wednesday was no exception, when his classy 162 brought Mumbai out of the woods against Tamil Nadu.
A day before his ton, Mumbai was struggling after losing its top-three batters, and with Tamil Nadu bowling short-pitched deliveries, was in a spot of bother.
But Sarfaraz ensured that Mumbai bounced back in style and earned a 337-run lead. It was certainly a daunting task, but making the most of home advantage, Sarfaraz forged a 167-run partnership with Tanush Kotian for the seventh wicket.
“They wanted to trap us with bouncers, but we knew that we had to hang in there. Thoda time lagega toh chalega, but chhodunga nahin (it’s okay if it takes some time, but we won’t give up),” Sarfaraz said after the second day’s play.
Resuming from an overnight score of 183/6, Sarfaraz and Kotian took a run-a-ball approach in the first session which eased out the pressure. Making the most of Tamil Nadu’s baffling decision to introduce Aswin Crist in the 11th over, the Mumbai batters settled in comfortably.
“We knew that it could swing a bit in the morning, so they would have an attacking approach. So, the idea was to time it well. Tamil Nadu bowlers looked excited to get a few early wickets, but we ensured that the runs flowed,” Sarfaraz said.
After 16 wickets tumbled on the opening day, there were apprehensions about the wicket, but with Mumbai lower-order showing steel, Tamil Nadu bowlers found it difficult to find breakthroughs. “Aswin’s was coming a bit slow, but today, the wicket was a lot better. It was a typical CCI wicket, and it was nicely coming on to the bat…”
Mumbai had a tall task in extending the slender 39-run lead, but Sarfaraz accepted the fact that even he did not imagine that the lead would go past 300. “We knew that Tanush can bat, and the wicket was not difficult. Idea was to set in and then build on with the lower-order. That plan worked,” he said. “The first target was to score a 50, and I did that with the second ball of the day. From there on, I got the momentum and runs flowed in. But of course, I did not imagine back then that we would take such a big lead…”
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Despite being a regular performer, an India call-up has eluded Sarfaraz. He, however, failed to replicate his Ranji Trophy success with the India A side and could only score 205 runs in seven innings with two fifties.
But Sarfaraz aims to play the ‘ lamba innings’ and be patient. “ Jab naseeb mein rahega, main khelunga (I’ll play for India when I’m destined to),” he said about making it to the Indian team. “A lot of people expected me to be part of the Indian team for the Bangladesh tour, but my Abbu (father Naushad Khan, who is also his coach) keeps telling me that I have to just focus on my game. And, I stay away from family and friends, so those outside noises don’t bother me…”
As Sarfaraz scored his 12th first-class hundred - a ninth for Mumbai - his father Naushad watched his innings from the club lawns. The youngster jumped in the air, waved his bat towards the Mumbai dressing room after reaching the three digits. His dad nodded his head, and then sat quietly as Sarfaraz went on with his innings.
That’s the mantra his coach seems to have passed on to him - ‘don’t rush, have patience’!