Inspired by Kohli, RCB’s Sarfaraz ups his fitness game

Sarfaraz Khan was dropped after five games for his fielding and a lack of fitness in 2016. He has turned things around since then, working tirelessly with RCB's physical trainers and sticking to a disciplined diet...

Sarfaraz Naushad Khan was retained by Royal Challengers Bangalore for Rs.1.75 crore   -  K. Bhagya Prakash

When it was announced in January that 20-year-old Sarfaraz Khan was among the three players Royal Challengers Bangalore had retained ahead of the 2018 IPL, the overwhelming reaction was one of surprise. A promising if not spectacular debut season in 2015 had been followed by an unremarkable campaign, when he was dropped after five games for his fielding and a lack of fitness. Sarfaraz had then missed the whole of the 2017 IPL with injury. So his retention, for ₹1.75 crore, was not widely expected.

Sarfaraz did not expect it himself. “I didn't think I was going to be retained,” he says. “But when I got a call from them, I obviously said yes. Playing under Virat (Kohli) bhai is something else.”

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It needs reminding that Sarfaraz is only 20 for he has been in the public eye for so long now. Ever since he scored 439 to break the schoolboy record in Mumbai's Harris Shield tournament as a 12-year-old, Sarfaraz and his father-coach Naushad Khan have been seen and heard from. At 16, Sarfaraz turned out for India in the U-19 World Cup, where he made a definite impact. A year later, he was in the IPL – the youngest to feature in the competition, catching the eye with an unorthodox, unfettered 45 against Rajasthan Royals at the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium. In 2016, he was the second-highest run-scorer at the U-19 World Cup in Bangladesh.

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“I wasn't nervous playing in the IPL at 17,” he says. “It helped that my father was a cricket coach himself, and had nurtured a couple of IPL players in Kamran Khan and Iqbal Abdullah. So from a young age, I'd been playing IPL bowlers. And at RCB nobody tries to change your game or your technique.”

“Virat bhai tho alag hee level ke hain. His time-table is completely different from that of us normal players – his gym-work, his diet, his batting, everything. Virat bhai has so many commitments: so many ads to shoot, so much to sign. On top of that, the tension of captaining the side, picking the team. But there is never a dip in his performance. So how strong must he be mentally?”. — Sarfaraz Khan

All he has ever done in his life, Sarfaraz says, is play cricket. It has meant ignoring, for a long time, everything else. So he admits he had little interest in, or awareness of, fitness-training. Sarfaraz speaks with an honesty and a spontaneous enthusiasm that is rare.

There is something innocent about him when he says he had a hard time staying away from sweets and junk food until a couple of years ago. He was heavier than was desirable, and was clearly told so. In 2016, Sarfaraz was benched three weeks into IPL season. “I was dropped because of my misfields and my fitness,” he says.

He has turned things around since then, working tirelessly with RCB's physical trainers and sticking to a disciplined diet. “I have more control over sweets now. I eat rice only in the day, and not for dinner. After 7pm, I don't eat anything,” he says.

“It used to be difficult two years ago, when this issue first came up. I was very young then and at that age, you don't know everything. If you were in my place, the same thing would have happened with you. There will come more things in life that I will have to learn. I have concentrated mostly on cricket in my life. I have done very little gym-work. I used to think only about cricket as a kid; I wouldn't pay much attention to academics either. Because I only wanted to play cricket and fulfil my father's dream. But as I've started playing at higher levels, I've learnt that fitness-work is important too.”

Sharing a dressing room with Kohli has been an education. “Virat bhai tho alag hee level ke hain,” he smiles. “His time-table is completely different from that of us normal players – his gym-work, his diet, his batting, everything. Virat bhai has so many commitments: so many ads to shoot, so much to sign. On top of that, the tension of captaining the side, picking the team. But there is never a dip in his performance. So how strong must he be mentally?”

When he tore the ACL in his knee last year, Sarfaraz feared that RCB may cut him loose, but the franchise didn't, instead taking care of his medical expenses and his post-surgery rehabilitation. Kohli even sent him a text message, asking him to use the opportunity to understand himself better. Sarfaraz is grateful. He feels no pressure that the team chose to retain him over other players. “Everyone has something expected of him by someone," he says. "Virat bhai is under way more pressure than me. The more you think, the greater the tension. So I choose not to think.”

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