CHENNAI: Sitting in his native city of Azamgarh in Uttar Pradesh with no IPL in immediate sight, Sarfaraz Khan sounds calm and measured with words. There is a slight pause before he answers questions and clarity in his thoughts. A year back, he was a forgotten man. It was like Indian cricket had lost a talent destined for bigger things even before the journey began.
Then came IPL 2019. It was the first competitive cricket for Sarfaraz in a year. Until then, all that he had done in the lead-up to his tryst with Kings XI Punjab was facing throwdowns from his father. He was spending a year in cooling-off after moving back to Mumbai after spending three seasons with Uttar Pradesh. Not allowed to play league cricket and unable to access other facilities, Sarfaraz spent a year in wilderness. It is an unusual place for any cricketer, let alone someone who was 21 years old.
“What pressure, sir? The world had forgotten me. When I went to Kings XI, I was only looking to bat. There was no one to judge me anymore. Everyone had said something before. So all that I wanted was to bat in a match, which I was missing so badly,” Sarfaraz told this newspaper on Tuesday. A prolific scorer in age-group cricket for Mumbai and a part of two Under-19 World Cups, between 2016 and January this year, Sarfaraz had not featured in a single first-class fixture. Recalled to the Mumbai side, he scored an unbeaten 71 in his first Ranji Trophy game against Karnataka.
He became immovable from the middle after that outing. Scores of 301 n.o, 226 n.o, 78 & 25, 177 & 6 against Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Saurashtra and Madhya Pradesh meant he finished with 928 runs – the highest tally among Elite Group batsmen. “Whatever happened, it was for the good. I’m glad that phase came when I was younger and still had plenty of years ahead of me. Had it happened later, who knows if I would have had the same sort of mental toughness. I’m used to being in the maidans and suddenly to not be part of it was hard to take.
Father told me to see the good things in bad times. I used the time to iron out errors. Since I had time, I got to watch a lot of matches on TV and picked up a few things,” Sarfaraz said. Naushad Khan, his father, has been his coach and friend. And probably, the only constant in his life. “He has taught me only cricket. So unlike other guys of my age, I don’t have a big circle of friends. I’ve a few, but when I wasn’t playing, they were busy with their careers. If I wasn’t batting, I was using the time to get myself fit,” Sarfaraz added.
In the time when Sarfaraz slipped under the radar, the likes of Shreyas Iyer, Prithvi Shaw and Shubman Gill made their way to the Indian team. Sarfaraz admits that watching them graduate to a higher level hurt him, but he also sounds a bit philosophical. “Some might play early and some later on. But what is important is to understand cricket. They are good players and so am I. Now, I know my game and know what to do. I know when to play shots and when not to. I might have lost a couple of years, but I have gained a lot which will help in the long run,” he said.