Sarfaraz Khan let out an emotional cry soon after reaching his century in the most crucial match of the season—the Ranji Trophy final. He took off his helmet, punched the air repeatedly and even before he knew it, the tears were streaming down his cheeks. He just let it all out and everyone watching knew exactly why he did that.
The 24-year-old’s 134 (243b; 13×4, 2×6) was the toughest ton he scored this season and it helped Mumbai reach 374 in the first essay against Madhya Pradesh – it was a total that looked highly improbable at one point.
With the innings, Sarfaraz became the first player to score 900-plus runs in back-to-back Ranji seasons. Wasim Jaffer and Ajay Sharma are the other players to have 900-plus runs twice but those runs came a few years apart for them.
The right-hand batter is the highest scorer in this season’s competition with 937 runs in eight innings at an average of 133.85. Thursday’s century was his fourth this season to go with two fifties. In 2019-20, he scored 928 runs at an average of 154.66. The national selectors were present in the stands and the situational awareness shown by Sarfaraz would have surely impressed them.
“When I started playing cricket, I dreamt of scoring a century for Mumbai in the Ranji Trophy. That was fulfilled. Then I had another dream of scoring a hundred in a Ranji final when my team needed it the most. That is why I got emotional after my century because my father has worked very hard,” Sarfaraz said while talking about his reaction to the ton.
At stumps on Day 2, MP saw their own batters put up a dogged fight to reach 123/1. They entered the pavilion still trailing by 251 runs but will know that they have done their job well.
The conditions were overcast when play resumed on Thursday and Mumbai were soon staring down the barrel after losing Shams Mulani, who was trapped leg-before by Gaurav Yadav (4/106), in the first over of the day.
Their tails up, MP bowlers made good use of the conditions that aided swing bowling, kept the ball up and started troubling the Mumbai batters. Yadav was the most effective as he took four of the five Mumbai wickets to fall.
Even Sarfaraz struggled. He got lucky when a thick edge flew between the keeper and a wide first slip. But that didn’t bog him down nor did he allow doubts to creep into his game. On the contrary, it only seemed to firm up his belief.
The things about Sarfaraz that have stood out throughout his career are his fighting spirit and the ability to revel in tough conditions. At the Chinnaswamy Stadium, these qualities were on full display as he slowly but surely—with the help of the tailenders—kept adding to Mumbai’s total.
The team think-tank kept him at No 5 instead of pushing him up the order, ahead of the inexperienced Armaan Jaffer and Suved Parkar, because of his experience, ability to rotate the strike and the manner in which he bats with the tail. It showed in how Mumbai’s runs were scored. The 41-time champions scored 126 runs on Day 2, out of which 94 came off Sarfaraz’s bat.
The bowlers hung around long enough to give Sarfaraz time to build something substantial. Tanush Kotian played 39 balls for his 15, Dhawal Kulkarni may have got just one run but he stonewalled the MP bowlers for 36 balls. So did Tushar Deshpande and Mohit Avasthi who faced 20 and 17 balls respectively.
Sarfaraz reached his 50 in 152 balls before he began to open up. He scored the next 84 runs in just 91 balls. He brought up his century with a boundary straight over Kumar Kartikeya’s (1/133) head off the 190th ball he faced.
While the first half of the day belonged to Sarfaraz, MP batters made sure that the Mumbai bowlers didn’t run over them in the second half.
It started with a 99-ball 47-run stand between Himanshu Mantri (31, 50b) and Yash Dubey (44 batting, 131b). The opening pair made sure they took the zing out of the Mumbai attack. Kulkarni & Co weren’t happy with the shape of the ball and that didn’t help their cause either.
While Dubey put his head down at one end, Mantri, after a watchful start, opened up against Shams Mulani by hitting him for two successive sixes in his second over. The idea, clearly, was to not allow the left-arm spinner to settle down.
Mantri departed in the post-tea session — caught leg-before by Deshpande — but Dubey and Shubham Sharma (41 batting, 65b), with an unbroken stand of 76 for the second wicket, made sure Mumbai didn’t make further inroads.