India vs England: Sarfaraz Khan’s long wait finally ends in a call-up

Once the ‘bad boy’ of domestic cricket, Mumbai batter is rewarded for serial run-scoring

Sarfaraz Khan, 'bad boy' turned good
Sarfaraz Khan, 'bad boy' turned good
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Gautam Bhattacharyya

Sarfaraz Khan, who finally ended a long and agonising wait for a call-up to the Indian squad for the second Test against England, is not just another newcomer. At 26 years, he has been one of the most talked about batters waiting to break into the big league for at least last three years, scoring runs by the bagful in domestic cricket.

Now, with K.L. Rahul ruled out of the second Test after complaining of a pain in the right quadricep, and the selectors choosing to look beyond veterans Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane again, the cherubic Sarfaraz has a realistic chance of making the playing XI. If he does so ahead of Rajat Patidar, the once precocious talent will have to bridge the huge gulf in standards between Ranji and big-league cricket.

Social media, which has for long been vocal about him being not considered and IPL performers getting precedence ahead of him, is ecstatic. ‘’Finally, Sarfaraz khan included in india’s test team. Well deserved,’’ posted  @Muhamma34054555 on his X handle, a sentiment echoed by most of his followers.

Once hailed as the latest of batting prodigies from the assembly line of Mumbai, Sarfaraz broke through in two back-to-back Under-19 World Cups in 2014 and 2016, aggregating 566 runs at a staggering average of 70.75, a tally bettered only by Eoin Morgan (606 runs) and Babar Azam (585 runs). He made his first-class debut exactly a decade back as a 16-year-old, but soon became an outcast in the Mumbai Cricket Association (MCA), which banned him on charges of being a age-cheat.

He continued to polarise opinions as he was once dismissed from the MCA’s indoor academy camp on disciplinary grounds, and had his match fees withheld for gesticulating against regional selectors after an Under-19 game. Feeling almost like an outcast, he migrated to Uttar Pradesh for a few seasons, and it seemed he had lost his way a bit.

He moved back to Mumbai for the 2019-20 season, and it almost ushered in a Sarfaraz 2.0 for his ‘home’ side. Sarfraz rustled up 928 runs in the 2019-20 season, followed by 982 in 2022, becoming only the third Indian batter after Wasim Jaffer and Ajay Sharma to hit 900-plus runs in two seasons.

The recall factor, however, came when a more mature Sarfaraz grabbed a call-up for the India A team with both hands. In India A’s recent tour match against England Lions, he hit a stunning 161 in the only innings that India A batted in to win the player of the match award as India A won the tour game by an innings and 16 runs.

While Sarfaraz’s hunger for runs and the ability to build long innings in first class cricket has earned him new-found respect, he is yet to be tested on the fitness front and against international opposition. Neither has he been able to set the stage on fire in the IPL, which he has been a part of for quite a few seasons.

Perhaps 2024 could be the breakthrough year Sarfaraz has been looking for.

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