Josh Hazelwood, Pat Cummins, Michell Starc, Scott Boland, Lance Morris, Cameron Green. They will be the backbone of the attack against India starting February, as the Aussies try and wrest back the Border-Gavaskar Trophy that over the past few years, India has made its own.
One young man from Mumbai had been preparing this past year for the arrival of these fast men. His name is Sarfaraz Khan.
In the off season his office is a piece of turf in his backyard that is just 18 yards in length. It’s watered and tended like a regular pitch. But there is no bowler running in, none jumping high, no one following through after the ball is delivered. Hour after hour, day after day in the scorching heat of Mumbai summer and anytime there is no cricket being played, Sarfaraz Khan in full cricket gear, has been facing throwdowns.
There is a certain single mindedness about this. At 18 yards, the pace and bounce is magnified, the swing often exaggerated by a sidearm delivery. But that’s the idea. The faster the reaction time, the better Sarfaraz will fare against real pace on surfaces that he fully expects to encounter from Durban to Perth, as his career takes off.
But as the red ball season commenced this year, an unexpected problem came up at the nets – Sarfaraz was mistiming the ball. In an interview with Wisden in June, his father and coach Naushad, spoke about his son calling him for advice on fixing the problem.
“His head was falling. It’s because he had been training against fast, swinging deliveries on the synthetic pitch, where he has to get the trigger movement out a lot earlier….It’s all about timing. I told him ‘When the bowler jumps, then you take the trigger movement, the timing will become perfect then.’ It did.”
All this season Sarfaraz has been in scintillating form. His dispatching of the red ball to all parts of the ground is not dissimilar to the cavalier treatment his fellow Mumbaikar Surya Kumaryadav is meting out to its cousin in white. And as the 25-year old sent scorer after scorer home with writer’s cramp this season, he quietly joined a select group of batsmen with dizzyingly high career averages.
It is a list that boasts some of the greatest names in the history of cricket. Using a cut off at a minimum of 35 first-class matches played, the man who towers above his fellow mortals on it, is Sir Don Bradman. In second place, for decades, sat one of India’s early greats, Vijay Merchant, with an incredible average of 71.64 over a career spanning 150 matches. Sarfaraz has just leapfrogged his illustrious fellow Mumbaikar.
Currently, his average clocks in at 79.80 from 35 matches played. It may be early days, but it’s not an achievement to be scoffed at at a time when the Indian Test team has been struggling to find consistency in its top and middle order.
Sarfaraz’s struggles over the past eight years, and the relentless quest for continuous improvement has taken him from Mumbai to Uttar Pradesh and back. But there is now light at the end of the tunnel. On the back of his Ranji Trophy performances this season, there was reason to believe that the probability of a Test call-up was higher than it has ever been.
As Sarfaraz Khan raised his bat last week after yet another century, it was as if he was invoking the Shah Rukh Khan inside him and telling Sharma and his boys: “My Name is Khan, and I am a Test player.”
Sadly, Chetan Sharma and his new committee of national selectors had their eyes wide shut. As they met this week to pick the best squad to face the formidable Australians at home, their decision to ignore Sarfaraz’s claims to selection left some doubt about the quality of their execution of that mandate.
While Sarfaraz’s continuing wait to transfer his first-class form into the Test arena is frustrating for both him and his fans, one imagines it has had the opposite effect down under. The wave of relief the confirmation of Rishabh Pant’s absence generated across Australia, has undoubtedly just turned into a tsunami of hope.
*This article was first published in the Smaximum, Guerilla Cricket’s weekly 3,000-word viewsletter, available to patreons only. For only $2 a month patreons get the Smaximum, weekly podcast, the Bishop and the Bear and a fortnightly quizcast, Who’s That Weirdo? as well as more than 100 days of live international cricket commentary a year. To sign up, go here: patreon.com/guerillacricket