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'Century kept playing on in my mind' - Dedicated Sarfaraz Khan reaps rewards of hard-work

"I couldn't sleep the entire night," says Mumbai batter and credits success to father Naushad Khan

Himanshu Agrawal
Sarfaraz Khan is now the leading run-scorer in this season of the Ranji Trophy  •  Shailesh Bhatnagar

Sarfaraz Khan is now the leading run-scorer in this season of the Ranji Trophy  •  Shailesh Bhatnagar

"Mujhe 100 karna tha. Chhodna nahi hai itni aasani se". [I wanted to score a century, I can't let it go so easily.]
They say actions speak louder than words. That is exactly the case with Sarfaraz Khan. Addressing a group of journalists after the second day's play against Uttarakhand when he converted his overnight score of 69 into 153, he was very soft-spoken, just repeatedly expressing his gratitude to his father for what he has done for him so far.
"All credit goes to my father," he said.
Was he nervous with a landmark looming? After all, it was a new day and he had to start all over again.
"I couldn't sleep the entire night. A century kept playing on in my mind the entire night yesterday," Sarfaraz said.
This, despite the fact that this was his third hundred of the season; despite the fact that before Tuesday, he had turned six of his 12 fifty-plus scores into hundreds; and despite the fact that he had hammered 301*, 226* and 177 in the the 2019-20 Ranji season, besides a 71* against South Africa A in Bloemfontein last November.
Back to Alur. When on 94 against Uttarakhand, Akash Madhwal pitched it short and outside off and Sarfaraz ramped him for six over third man. There was doubt whether the ball went past the rope. The umpire was still waiting to give the signal. And yet the entire Mumbai dressing room was already on its feet, applauding a sparkling innings.
However, Sarfaraz was left confused.
"I thought I was still another ten runs away, and so wondered why the entire dressing room was so happy and cheerful."
Sarfaraz started the day on 69 off 104 balls, reached his century off 146 deliveries and then cracked another 53 runs off the next 59 balls - including bashing left-arm spinner Swapnil Singh for three fours in the 105th over - to keep progressing.
On the way, he eclipsed Chetan Bist to become the tournament's highest run-getter this season - his 704 runs have come in five innings, compared to Bist's 623 in six - as he revealed what went into his long-format success despite batting just twice in first-class cricket between February 2020 and February 2022.
"During an off-season or a lockdown, I often travel 2500-3000 kms by car," he said. "And when we didn't have a car, we used to take the Rajdhani [train] to travel to Delhi to play."
"My village is in in UP, so I go via MP, Mathura, Ghaziabad and other places. We stop at every place for two days, and play at the academies there. That helps us keep in touch with the game, as well as helps us differentiate between red and black soil.
"For instance, you can't play square of the wicket on black soil as well as you can on red soil. You must play with a straight bat on black soil, while on red soil, you can let the ball go [more often] when it is away from you since there is extra bounce."
Batting is a detail oriented process and Sarfaraz clearly leaves no stone unturned.
As he talks non-stop about cricket, his father and his training, my colleague asks him if he's interested in anything besides the game.
"I like watching movies," he smiles. "That is when my brain relaxes. I watch TV series too before going to sleep."

Himanshu Agrawal is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo