"Darr? Hotel pe chod ke aaya tha (Fear? I'd left it back at the hotel before coming here)."
It sounds like something straight from a Bollywood movie, but that was Sarfaraz Khan's response when asked about an audacious scoop shot he had played during Kings XI Punjab's season opener against Rajasthan Royals on Monday.
In the 20th over of the Kings XI innings, Sarfaraz got the Sawai Mansingh Stadium roaring with an adventurous scoop off a Ben Stokes short ball that sailed over the third-man boundary. Sarfaraz later dropped that Bollywood-esque remark while speaking with team-mate KL Rahul on iplt20.com after Kings XI's win.
The scoop was just one of the highlights of his stroke-filled 46 not out off 29 balls. There was a sweetly-timed textbook sweep and a wristy cover drive off K Gowtham, and, to top it off, one that was powerfully dispatched over midwicket off the last ball of the innings.
Amid the highly-anticipated IPL return of Steven Smith, Chris Gayle's boisterous 47-ball 79, and R Ashwin mankading Jos Buttler later in the day, Sarfaraz had managed to stand out. Sure, he might have had the limelight taken away from him, but for a 21-year-old batsman who had endured a rough couple of years - mainly due to fitness issues - the knock proved to be an opportunity to shine again.
"I've done a lot of hard work," Sarfaraz told ESPNcricinfo. "I don't think a lot about comebacks and things. I'm here to show my game and will try to do my best. If it is destined to be that way then nobody can stop me.
"I hadn't played any cricket because of my knee injury. I had a surgery and I had to take rest so I lost touch. But this year I've worked really hard. I'm focusing on fitness but more than that, I'm focusing on batting because of what happened last year."
Sarfaraz had been a surprising choice as one of three players retained by Royal Challengers Bangalore ahead of the 2018 IPL auction. The other two were Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers. While Sarfaraz made an impact in his debut season in 2015, that was followed by a dismal campaign in 2016, when he was benched for most parts of the season because of his lack of fitness. In 2017, he missed the entire tournament with injury. So the retention did raise a few eyebrows.
In six innings last year, Sarfaraz made just 51 runs, and his strike rate of 124.39 wasn't very rapid either. In addition, he had fitness woes to deal with. He was eventually released by Royal Challengers ahead of the 2019 auction before finding a second home in Kings XI, who picked him up for just INR 25 lakhs - a fraction of what he had been paid (INR 1.75 crore) when retained by Royal Challengers in 2018.
Amid all of this, he had troubles with his domestic side as well. Having switched from Mumbai to Uttar Pradesh in 2015 upon his father's insistence, Sarfaraz endured an average run of form and was eventually dropped from the side on fitness grounds. After much contemplation, he returned to Mumbai last year, where he was asked to serve the mandatory one-year cooling off period.
"I know it was my dad's decision to shift me from Mumbai to UP... but there I did not get many chances as I expected because of injury issues while I was there. They thought that I was not fully fit so I was dropped from the one-day side. From then it was my decision to go back to Mumbai and play there.
"When I returned to Mumbai after being in UP for two years, I had a cooling off period because of which I missed out on top-level cricket," he said. "But even then I worked hard on my game. I played in the DY Patil tournament and in the Goa Corporate League, a lot of IPL players play there usually. It's not like if you don't play domestic cricket, you completely lose out on quality game time."
While the big stars usually manned Royal Challengers' top order, Sarfaraz mostly batted at No. 5 or lower, bearing the mantle of being the finisher or providing a late flourish. At his new franchise, he is already impressed with the communication within the team and is hopeful he will get to play a new role - mainly to bat higher up the order, like he did against Royals.
"I'm very happy here in KXIP. The thing about playing here is the players communicate well. They say 'this is your problem, this is where you can improve.' Ashwin also talks a lot and says a lot of positive stuff.
"I'm playing to expand my roles. I never used to get to play in the top order for RCB. I only batted at 5 or 6. But this year, I feel if I get to bat at the top, I'll do well."
The presence of his former Royal Challengers team-mates in the likes of KL Rahul, Gayle, and Mandeep Singh, among others, has further helped Sarfaraz settle down in the new environment.
"It feels like I'm 19 again. Feels like I'm still in my old team that we are together. Off the field, we enjoy as well."