India vs England: The father-son dream that came true in Rajkot | Cricket - Hindustan Times
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India vs England: Sarfaraz and Naushad Khan - the father-son dream that came true in Rajkot

Feb 15, 2024 09:30 PM IST

Naushad Khan was emotional on Thursday seeing his son, Sarfaraz, make his Test debut and score 62 against England

For almost four months every monsoon season, there’s no cricket in Mumbai. The players use the time to do pre-season fitness training. But for one family, there is never any break. Whether it is rain, heat or humidity, the Khans — father Naushad, sons Sarfaraz and Musheer — ensure that the game goes on. If it is rainy season in Mumbai, Sarfaraz and Musheer are taken to their ancestral home in Uttar Pradesh by their father to train.

Naushad has invested so much in Sarfaraz that the latter knew he simply couldn’t fail. (PTI)
Naushad has invested so much in Sarfaraz that the latter knew he simply couldn’t fail. (PTI)

For instance, immediately after IPL 2023, with cricket activity ending in Mumbai, Sarfaraz headed to his village to prepare for the Duleep Trophy. The routine set by his father-coach was gruelling — wake up at 3am, run from 4 to 5, gym from 5 to 6 and an hour dedicated to fielding practice. Evenings were reserved for three-hour net sessions. For match practice, Naushad drives his sons around to wherever he can arrange games in UP — distance doesn't matter.

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When in Mumbai, the training has always been relentless. Even during the pandemic when the Mumbai team's camp was on, Sarfaraz’s normal routine used to be to wake up at 5, bat at Cross Maidan (Karnataka SA) from 6 to 7, go to the Wankhede Stadium to train with the Mumbai team from 8.30am to 1pm. From 2pm to 4pm, he would train at home.

Only the venue shifts, the hours of training remain the same. Naushad first took Sarfaraz for practice to Azad Maidan at the age of six, where he would bat for many hours in a day. After the plot of pitches there came under the metro rail project, the training shifted to the adjacent Cross Maidan.

Even during the gap after the second Test in Visakhapatnam, Sarfaraz prepared for his Test debut at the Karnataka SA ground. "The father and sons are always at the ground, they just don't tire. Sarfaraz's India A game (against England Lions) ended in Ahmedabad on January 28 and next morning he was at our ground at 6.30, the day light hadn't broken. The day after the second Test, he was again at our ground for practice. Musheer is the same, their commitment is unbelievable," said KSCA cricket ground in-charge Deepak Lotlikar.

This, in a nutshell, is the story of the Khans. Naushad is neither a first-class cricketer nor a highly-qualified coach. But he has carved the careers of his sons with insane zeal and a mind-boggling amount of hard work. Their discipline and dedication are unmatchable. The lights at home have to be off by 9.30pm, for Naushad's boys have to be ready before sunrise for practice.

If you happen to ask him about workload management, you can bet his reaction to be, 'what’s that?' There’s no break between tournaments or games. When there are no competitive matches, he books a ground, assembles 11 players and gets his sons to bat throughout the day. Sarfaraz’s wrists and elbows never complain.

Those who have seen Naushad in his younger days, when he played club cricket for Young Friends Cricket Cub and office cricket for Western Railway, can't miss the uncanny resemblance between the father and son in their stocky build and their walk. Naushad was popularly known as “Macho” on the maidans. Sarfaraz soon came to be called by the same moniker.

Naushad has invested so much in Sarfaraz that the latter knew he simply couldn’t fail. A huge load was lifted off Sarfaraz's shoulders on Thursday when he received his Test cap (No.311). “I felt very nice, first time I came to the ground (with the India team) and to get the cap. My father was there, I was six when he started training me. My only dream was that in his lifetime he gets to see me play for the Indian team once. It’s the proudest moment of my life," said Sarfaraz after a 66-ball 62 in the third Test against England.

As Sarfaraz's long wait for a Test debut ended on Thursday, his father, who came to the stadium in Rajkot wearing a pullover jacket that read ‘cricket is everyone’s game’, also caught the attention of those around. Sunil Gavaskar walked up to have a word. He was also invited for a stint in live commentary during the official broadcast.

Tough practice

Mark Wood, who operates at speeds over 140kmph, was on when Sarfaraz walked in to bat on Thursday. He wasn't going to be overawed, so tough has been his father’s methods of training. At their Taximen’s Colony building compound in Kurla, his father has built a makeshift net with an astroturf pitch for practice.

He and Sarfaraz’s another brother, Moin, bowl to him with a special synthetic ball, which swings much more than a leather ball, and when hurled with a sidearm it comes at a speed of 145-plus. "After playing on the wicket (astroturf) which we have at home, no wicket is difficult to bat on. I gain a lot of confidence playing on it," Sarfaraz said in an earlier interview.

Ever since he broke the record for the highest score in the Harris Shield inter-school tournament — 439 for Rizvi Springfield at the age of 12 — Sarfaraz has been earmarked as the next big thing from Mumbai. But at the senior level, the ride wasn’t as smooth as he expected.

Lack of opportunities in the Mumbai side meant he shifted to Uttar Pradesh in 2015. But when the move didn’t pay off, Khan returned to the Mumbai team after four years. In 2019, when he finally got an opportunity against a strong Karnataka side because some senior players were unavailable, Sarfaraz scored a sizzling 71 with Mumbai under pressure. He has not looked back from there, breaking the selection door open with sheer volume of runs. The numbers speak for themselves — 928 runs in the 2019/20 season, 982 in 2021-22 and 556 in the 2022-23 season.

"The whole process he had to go through to make a comeback to the Mumbai side when he returned from UP, he understood that he has to double and triple his efforts to make a mark," Naushad had told HT in an interview. On the evidence of his first day in Test cricket, he has taken to it like a fish to water.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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    Sanjjeev K Samyal heads the sports team in Mumbai and anchors HT’s cricket coverage.

  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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    Rasesh Mandani loves a straight drive. He has been covering cricket, the governance and business side of sport for close to two decades. He writes and video blogs for HT.

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