Sarfaraz Khan completed his transformation from Mumbai cricket’s resident ‘enfant terrible’ to ‘Man Friday’ with a superb hundred that kept his side ahead against Madhya Pradesh in the Ranji Trophy final, in Bengalurui on Thursday.
Courtesy Sarfaraz’s fourth hundred of the season — 134 off 243 balls — the 41-time champions managed a fighting 374 in their first innings after beginning the day at 248 for five.
But Madhya Pradesh won’t be too unhappy as they finished the second day at 123 for one with Yash Dubey (44 batting) and Shubham Sharma (41 batting) adding 76 runs for the unbroken second wicket.
The day belonged to none other than Sarfaraz, who has now scored an astounding 937 runs in Ranji Trophy in just six games and could make it 1000 for the season if Mumbai bat again in this match.
His innings had 13 boundaries and two huge sixes — one over square leg off left-arm spinner Kumar Kartikeya and one down the ground off off-spinner Saransh Jain.
But what stood out was how he managed the innings after Shams Mulani was trapped leg before by Gourav Yadav (4/106) in the opening over of the second day.
His batting with the tail showed his new-found maturity, which is proving to be a boon for Mumbai cricket. He chose loose deliveries for boundary, forcing M.P. captain Aditya Shrivastava to open the field.
The manner in which Sarfaraz has turned a corner since the 2019-20 season (928 runs back then) is phenomenal as he had disciplinary issues early in his career, which also forced him to leave Mumbai for a season.
With father Naushad Khan, who also doubles up as his coach, making him play 400 balls (nearly 67 overs including nets and knocking) a day at practice, Sarfaraz 2.0 is a battle-hardened man, the ‘khadoos street fighter’ that any captain would want to go to a war with.
Once he reached his fifty, he touched the lion’s crest on his jersey, gesturing ‘Don’t worry, I am going nowhere’.
His batting isn’t as pleasing to the eye as Prithvi Shaw’s but highly effective. His batting is assuring. He knows how to score those runs on a track that is largely two-paced and in overcast conditions with the ball doing a fair bit.
When M.P. skipper spread the field to stop boundaries, he still found his way to play the controlled square cut off seamer Anubhav Agarwal, which bisected the two fielders stationed at deep extra cover and deep point to the fence.
Having entered ’90s, he played a typical T20 scoop over keeper’s head while being partially blindsided and completely off-balance.
It was a sight worth capturing.
At 97, M.P. skipper Shrivastava put all his fielders at the boundary line with two standing at long-on and long-off.
The ploy wasn’t good enough to stop Sarfaraz as he thumped one over bowler’s head which went to the boundary.
The celebration was a war cry and a thigh thump. There were tears of relief that he shed having accomplished what he had set out to do.
The Indian Test team’s middle-order is still jam-packed but the manner in which Sarfaraz is batting, to put it in head coach Rahul Dravid’s words, he is not just knocking but banging the selection door down.
Sarfaraz was involved in four small, but very effective, partnerships which could prove to be decisive if the match turns out to be an affair of one innings.
He added 40 for seventh wicket with Tanush Kotian (15), 26 for the eighth wicket with Dhawal Kulkarni (1), 39 for the ninth with Tushar Deshpande (6) and another 21 priceless runs for the final wicket with Mohit Avasthi (7).
By the time, he became Mumbai’s last batter to be dismissed, he had ensured that the total is good enough for his bowlers to defend.
But there are ominous signs as M.P. batters have looked solid so far and Mumbai’s bowling line-up hasn’t made much of an impact, save Tushar Deshpande’s delivery that straightened to find Himanshu Mantri’s (31) pads.