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Sarfaraz Khan's inconsistent IPL journey

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Sarfaraz_Khan_Royal_Challengers_Bangalore_RCB_IPL_CricketSarfaraz Khan first broke into the circuit as a 12-year-old when he scored 439 runs in the Harris Shield in 2009, but it was only in the 2014 Under-19 World Cup that he broke the shackles. He scored 211 runs in the tournament, impressing IPL franchises. It was not long before he was recruited into the Royal Challengers Bangalore squad. With the team already comprising geniuses like Chris Gayle, Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers, Sarfaraz was hardly expected to rise above the troika. But a game against Rajasthan Royals in 2015 announced his arrival.

Then the youngest player in the IPL, Sarfaraz entered the field a stout, short and a wobbly figure, just after de Villiers’s blitzkrieg. Just when it looked like the South African’s heroics would be tough to overhaul, Sarfaraz set about doing just that. Over the next 21 balls that fetched 45 runs, he gave ample proof of his potential and his repertoire of shots only thrust him ahead as a future-Indian cap.

James Faulkner, who was known for his clever bowling in 2015, bowled a back-of-the-hand slower ball that would have dismissed many greats. Sarfaraz, in a fearless mood, moved outside the line of the delivery to attempt a reverse sweep. His bat handle flipped and the youngster ended up playing with the back of his willow. He was angry with himself. He had been unable to take advantage of the third man that was inside the circle and in that moment, the world around was witness to a clever and a mature cricketer who had a smart grasp of the field around and who knew how to take advantage of it.

From 157 in 17 overs to 200 in 20, Sarfaraz emerged as an unlikely hero for RCB. Very few individuals had the ability to overshadow the genius batsmanship of de Villiers. As Kohli bowed his hands in the form of a pranaam to salute Sarfaraz, the audience world over knew that something special had taken place.

Fast-forward three years and Sarfaraz finds himself still on the bench in the RCB camp after inspiring much hope. Since that phenomenal season in 2015, when he averaged 27.75 in 13 games with a strike-rate of 156.33, inconsistencies plagued the Uttar Pradesh lad. Even though his average shot up to 33 in 2016 with his strike-rate increasing to 212.90, he played just the first 5 games and missed out thereafter. Kohli, was blunt in his reasons for dropping the young player:

 

“Sarfaraz understands the areas in which he needs to work on as far as the fitness and fielding part is concerned. You can't afford to have too many guys in the field who are not up to the mark with their fielding because the outfield here is lightning quick. I want to have a guy who gives 120% on the field and saves some crucial five to six runs.”

 

After a magnificent Under-19 World Cup in 2016, where he struck five fifties in six matches, the omission from the RCB camp a few months later arrived as a bolt from the blue – reminding him that a world of difference existed between playing cricket at the junior levels and the senior one. Just when he had hoped to show the world his transformed self, a knee injury before the 2017 season meant that Sarfaraz could not play a single game in the tenth edition of the league.

Hence, it came as a major surprise when the RCB management decided to retain the youngster ahead of the 2018 edition of the tournament. Not only had he had an ordinary domestic season, his place in the RCB camp never seemed certain. With the likes of Gayle, KL Rahul and Yuzvendra Chahal not being retained, Sarfaraz’s retention brought about its own share of surprised talk.

How could he be more crucial and indispensable than the aforementioned players? However, it did make sense to retain him from a logistical point of view. The IPL rules stated that an amount of INR 21 crores would be deducted from the franchise purse if two players were retained. RCB had already over-shot that cut-off by spending INR 17 crores and 11 crores on Kohli and ABD respectively. If they retained three players, INR 33 crores would have been deducted. Hence, it was wise to retain an uncapped player like Sarfaraz, on whom they would have spent only INR 3 crores. If they had chosen to retain either Chahal or Rahul, they would have had to spend more and neither of the two players would have agreed to be in the side for just 5 crores (Rahul was bought by Kings XI Punjab for INR 11 crores and Chahal was bought back by RCB for 6).

Nevertheless, Sarfaraz’s past knocks and the fact that he looked fitter ensured that RCB entrusted him with the finishing role this season. With an inexperienced Washington Sundar in the ranks, the onus lay heavily on Sarfaraz. But 6 from 10 balls in the first game and a golden duck in the second meant that he was dropped for Pawan Negi in the third match against Rajasthan Royals. With Negi scoring just 3 in 4, Kohli turned to Sarfaraz against Mumbai Indians but an uninspired knock of 5 from 6 led him to be dropped from RCB’s home game against Delhi Daredevils.

In all his three outings, he looked far removed from the nonchalant figure who had been unafraid to play a ramp shot past third man off a short-pitched Shane Watson delivery three years ago. Then, he had walked back to the pavilion with the vociferous chants of “Sar-fa-raaz” at Chinnaswamy. Three years later, both he and the crowd will be desperately hoping for an encore.

 

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