The tales of competitiveness in Mumbai's school cricket are well known. Stories of players scoring 200, 300 and even 500 have set high standards in the school circuit, and are often heard about in the corridors of Mumbai's schools. The same players who score big there go on to play for Mumbai in the Ranji Trophy, but at school level they have a unique sense of competitiveness between them.
The case of Sarfaraz Khan
and Armaan Jaffer
is one such example. Once competitive team-mates at school, they are now scoring runs in heaps together for the Mumbai Ranji team.
Sarfaraz and Jaffer - one year apart in age - met for the first time in 2008 when they were at Rizvi Springfield High School, and the unsaid competitiveness between them was such that if one scored 200, the other wanted to score 300; and if one crossed 300, the other wanted to smash 400.
The pressure to do so also came down from their fathers who coached their sons. So it was no surprise that in the 2009 Harris Shield tournament, Sarfaraz had smashed 439 off 421 balls to break Sachin Tendulkar's 45-year-old record, and the very next year in the Under-14 Giles Shield, Jaffer scored a mammoth 498.
"I met Armaan for the first time in 2008; he was already at Rizvi School, and I joined a year later," Sarfaraz tells ESPNcricinfo after Mumbai's semi-final win over Uttar Pradesh
in Bengaluru. "That's when we started playing together. He used to bat wearing keeping pads because batting pads were too big for him. He used to knock the whole day in the nets. Even when the match was on, he used to continue knocking on the side."
Even though neither will admit the competitiveness that existed between them at the time, they used to spend the whole day on the pitch out of fear of their fathers, because if Sarfaraz had scored less than Jaffer, he had had it.
"There was no competitiveness as such, but it was about who was going to score more," Sarfaraz said. "Armaan's father did not hit him but Prithvi [Shaw]'s father and mine were hard task masters, so we were always under pressure to score."
Now Sarfaraz and Jaffer are so close that they call each other "slow local" and "fast local", after the famous local trains that run in Mumbai. Their bond is also such that they try to take adjacent hotel rooms when they go for matches.
"Armaan is the same as he was before - he plays slow," Sarfaraz said. "That's why we used to call him 'slow local' because that's how he used to bat then and that's how he bats now. The others used to get out but once Armaan would go out to bat at No. 3, he would bat the whole day. In Under-14, he scored 101 and 105 not outs at the end of the day."
"It feels like we're still playing school cricket. We don't think or talk about pressure, bowlers, Ranji Trophy, and such things."
Sarfaraz on batting with Jaffer
The soft-spoken Jaffer said, "There was no such pressure to score from my family. And no competition either that he will score more or me. Sarfaraz used to score quickly then and that's how he bats even today. So he's called the 'fast local'. We both have bonded a lot since our school days and we know each other very well."
After all these years, Sarfaraz and Jaffer also understand each other's game very well now.
we lost two wickets in two balls, but Armaan played a crucial knock of 125. When I go out to bat with him, it's a different level of comfort because it feels like we're still playing school cricket," Sarfaraz says.
"We don't think or talk about pressure, bowlers, Ranji Trophy, and such things. We never get negative either. We just discuss with each other how to plan against what kind of bowler and so on. We don't even think or talk about getting out."
When asked what changes had he seen over the years in Jaffer's batting, Sarfaraz said, "The only change I've seen is that now he hits sixes (laughs), and he has also started scoring quickly now. He has just come back to Ranji Trophy, and it's only his seventh game in the tournament. He was injured earlier so now he is looking to cement his place by scoring runs. Once he scores 100 [or] 200, then he can also hit big sixes. If he plays his natural game, he can hit sixes."
When Jaffer was asked the same question about Sarfaraz, he said, "Whatever the team's situation, Sarfaraz always keeps the atmosphere light. He says such things that people end up laughing. And he's always been like this since school days. The atmosphere is always great when he's in the dressing room."
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