From his local cricket days on the maidans of Mumbai, Sarfaraz Khan has been known for his aggressive batting. The robust approach of the 18-year-old even got him an Indian Premier League (IPL) contract with Royal Challengers Bangalore in 2015, making him the youngest to play in the cash-rich league.
In the U-19 World Cup, however, Sarfaraz has curbed his carefree style, focusing instead on building partnerships. This was perhaps most notably demonstrated in the final against West Indies on Sunday, after India had been reduced to 27 for three in the 7th over.
Sarfaraz remained a picture of focus as wickets fell at the other end. He not only top-scored with 51 (89 balls, 5x4, 1x6), he stayed put until the 39th over to drag India to at least a modest total.
His record fifth half-century in seven matches wasn’t enough as India were dismissed for 145 and West Indies pulled off a five-wicket win in the end, but the tournament marked Sarfaraz’s maturity as a player.
Sarfaraz had done the same in the semifinal against Sri Lanka, which resulted in the team’s victory. When he came in to bat in the 10th over, the score read 27 for two. The Mumbai lad, who shifted to his native Uttar Pradesh this season, patiently negotiated the pacers — scoring just 14 runs off the first 28 balls — before getting to 50 off 61 balls. Like in the final, by the time he fell for 59, India had put on 123 runs.
This shift from an attacking batsman to a patient innings-builder has been brought about by a realisation of his role in the team, said Sarfaraz’s father Naushad.
“Sarfaraz is an attacking batsman by nature who likes to go after the bowling from the start. But in Bangladesh, he had been taking four or five overs to understand the situation and read the wicket. He has then focused on building partnerships and in helping the team come out of pressure situations.
“He has changed his approach according to the situation of the match. He has understood his responsibility as a senior player in the team,” said Naushad, who is also Sarfaraz’s personal coach.
This was Sarfaraz’s second U-19 World Cup, after he had featured in the 2014 edition as well. He was the most experienced player in the squad, and it helped that he has shared the RCB dressing room with Chris Gayle, AB de Villiers and Virat Kohli.
It was in that elite company that Sarfaraz also gained a passion for fitness. Consequently, he drastically changed his diet. “Sarfaraz has changed after sharing the dressing room with players like Virat (in IPL). He has focused a lot on his fitness. He has promised to become fitter, having seen their level of fitness and fielding firsthand.
Sarfaraz is a strong youngster, but changed food habits have helped him tone up, having lost almost five kg. “The biggest change has been his diet, he doesn’t eat junk food or fast food anymore,” said Naushad. “Now, he only eats when it’s necessary. Masala chicken was one of his favourite dishes, but he has given up on such things. He eats boiled chicken or boiled eggs instead.”