This trio has talent to make it big

ARMAAN JAFFER, WHO IS FORMER INDIA OPENER WASIM JAFFER'S NEPHEW, says batting time comes with playing in Mumbai. "There are fewer limited-overs matches in Mumbai. We play a lot of three-day or four-day games as school kids. So you get used to playing such long-innings."-PICS: K. PICHUMANI

Armaan Jaffer (15 years), Sarfaraz Khan (16) and Shreyas Iyer (19) are among the most talked-about junior cricketers from Mumbai. A deluge of numbers tells their story. By Arun Venugopal.

Mumbai’s batting tradition forms a unique fabric in the country’s cricketing lore, deriving its edge from, among other things, the ‘khadoos’ (loosely translated to mean grumpy or stubborn) approach. It is drilled into batsmen right at the relentlessly-competitive junior-cricket level that selling one’s wicket cheaply is sacrilegious.

It’s through this grind that Mumbai’s finest emerge, endowed with the wherewithal to bat long, really long.

Armaan Jaffer (15 years), Sarfaraz Khan (16), and Shreyas Iyer (19) are among the most talked-about junior cricketers from Mumbai. A deluge of numbers tells their story. In 2009, Sarfaraz broke the Harris Shield inter-school record in Mumbai, scoring 439. The very next year, Armaan, his schoolmate at Rizvi Springfield, claimed the record for the highest individual score in Indian school cricket, smashing 498 in the Giles Shield. Armaan also scored 473 in February 2013. In November last year, his record was broken by Prithvi Shaw (546), also from Rizvi.

Last year, Armaan emerged the best batsman in the Vijay Merchant Trophy and found a place among Mumbai’s Ranji Trophy probables. Both Sarfaraz and Shreyas, who scored two fifties in three games, had good outings in the under-19 World Cup earlier this year.

In Chennai recently with the Mumbai side for the Buchi Babu all-India tournament, Sportstar caught up with the trio. Both Sarfaraz and Armaan are coached by their respective fathers. They are the kind that would stop at nothing to ensure their children grow up to be the best cricketers they can be. “Daddy is a little strict,” says Sarfaraz. “But, the hard-work I am made to put in practice makes matches easier for me.”

Sarfaraz’s father, Naushad, is originally from Azamgarh in Uttar Pradesh, and is credited with the discovery of players such as Iqbal Abdulla and Kamran Khan. Sarfaraz’s training schedule involves several gruelling hours at Azad Maidan. “Watching ‘Bhaag Milkha Bhaag’ was hugely motivating. I lay greater emphasis upon fitness now.” Sarfaraz is also made to do drills that aren’t necessarily rooted in convention. “I do Yoga. I also light up a candle and practise seeing in the night.”

"I LAY GREATER EMPHASIS UPON FITNESS NOW. I do Yoga. I also light up a candle and practice seeing in the night," says Sarfraz.-

Armaan, who is former India opener Wasim Jaffer’s nephew, says batting time comes with playing in Mumbai. “There are fewer limited-overs matches in Mumbai. We play a lot of three-day or four-day games as school kids. So you get used to playing such long-innings.”

As we ask for his phone number, we are a touch surprised to find out he doesn’t own one. He gives us his father Kalim’s number instead. Speaking from Mumbai, Kalim says gadgets are “more than enough” to cause distraction. “Once you are on Facebook or Whatsapp, so many people come in contact with you and your focus is lost. I try to set an example to Armaan by not being on FB or Whatsapp myself. Even Wasim didn’t own a mobile phone until he played for India.”

Armaan, who still lives in a Chawl in Bandra Reclamation, says his family has had to sacrifice a lot for his cricket. “My mother doesn’t get much sleep as she has to wake up early and finish the chores before the water stops coming. Financially, though, things are better now.”

"I THINK MY breakthrough came during the second year of under-19 cricket where I scored three centuries and a fifty," says Shreyas.-

Ask Sarfaraz and Armaan about missing out on a normal childhood, the former says: “Kuch pane ke liye kuch khona padta hai” (To achieve something, you need to sacrifice something in return).

Having begun playing serious cricket at the age of 10, Shreyas is a batsman who can bowl. “I think my breakthrough came during the second year of under-19 cricket where I scored three centuries and a fifty,” says Shreyas, who made his T20 debut for Mumbai this year.

Coached by Pravin Amre, Shreyas is aware of the competition around him. “You have to make your name right at the school-level for people to recognise you.”

This trio nurses ambitions of making it big for Mumbai and India. Given their pedigree, there aren’t many reasons why one would bet against that.