At 17 he is the youngest to have played in this IPL. As he walks on to the field Sarfaraz Khan turns eyes. Mainly because of his girth - short, rotund, wobbling around the hips, Sarfaraz makes you wonder what made Royal Challengers Bangalore gamble on this Mumbai talent. His electric cameo against Rajasthan Royals on Wednesday evening not only gave Royal Challengers a formidable total, but it also added further wattage to an already charged stadium. Here are five reasons to keep an eye on Sarfaraz.
James Faulkner's back-of-the-hand slow ball is a sucker punch delivered at a very slow speed. Many an experienced batsman has been floored. Sarfaraz has already upper cut the Australian for his first boundary. Next ball Faulkner charges in and delivers that slower ball. Far from finding himself in a spot, Sarfaraz has already quickly moved outside the line of the delivery to attempt the reverse sweep. But in the process his bat handle flips and Sarfaraz ends up playing the shot with the back of his bat. He berates himself: not because of his loose grip, but for failing to take advantage of the third man being inside the circle. Even if he got just one run, you realise Sarfaraz's clever grasp of the field and his cunning motive.
In the next over, Royals' captain Shane Watson goes for a boundary as Sarfaraz flays wildly at a fuller-length delivery outside off stump. Next ball Watson bangs it in hard short of a length. Sarfaraz nonchalantly takes a step back to play the ramp shot past third man for the second four in a row. Thus he has forced Watson to change his plans. The Australian allrounder now is operating from round the stumps. A fuller ball on the legs is clipped to deep midwicket. Amidst confusion his partner Dinesh Karthik is run out. Sarfaraz is unfazed. He is still wildly swinging even at a wide delivery. He is playing with no fear.
Royal Challengers are 157 for 5 with three overs to go. This is a phase where teams have taken the game away from their opposition by scoring at minimum ten an over. Sarfaraz is inexperienced. But he is far from wet behind his ears. Instead he is charging one of the best spinners of the IPL: Praveen Tambe. The Royals' legspinner had already been rendered useless after the initial assault inflicted on him by the raging blade of AB de Villiers. In his return spell he once again is not allowed to settle down as Sarfaraz takes advantage of Tambe's flatter trajectory and sweeps him for a four off the first ball. Next ball as Tambe tosses it up, Sarfaraz jumps out of his crease to deliver the ball high over long off. Next ball he has once again lofted high over cover for another four. Royals have 18 runs from the over and they are now set for 200.
Watson had shuffled the field throughout the penultimate over of the Royal Challengers innings which is delivered by Dhawal Kulkarni. A good plan including setting his own field has worked in Kulkarni's favour as he gets rid of the South African allrounder David Wiese. Next ball, the last ball of the over, Kulkarni pitches down the leg side. Sarfaraz has already read the ball well as he has quickly moved outside the line of the ball to go for the scoop, with which he connects wonderfully to get another four. He is not just seeing gaps, but he is creating them, too.
The Chinnaswamy Stadium is screaming "Sar-fa-raaz, Sar-far-raaz" as Tim Southee runs in to deliver the final over of the innings. Harshal Patel has hit the first ball for a huge six, but the crowd wants Sarfaraz to get his maiden half-century. Sarfaraz cuts a short-pitched delivery on off stump to the right of sweeper cover. But Stuart Binny's spectacular dive cuts the four to just two runs. An anxious Sarfaraz constantly turns to watch the big screen in the North Stand to ascertain if it was a four. The crowd now wants a six with two balls to go as that would get Sarfaraz to his maiden fifty. He swings and misses a fuller length ball on off stump. He punchs the last ball past Southee and even as Patel turns for a double, Sarfaraz grounds the bat to remain not out. Two balls earlier he had refused a bye even as Patel was halfway down the pitch to take the run. He is bound to learn to be more proactive in future.
The crowd, which walked out later disappointed at the rain, had become excited, dazzled by a Sarfaraz special. Such was his dominance that even the Royal Challengers captain Virat Kohli folded both his hands to deliver a pranaam (gesture displaying vote of thanks) to Sarfaraz.