The ‘Great Gatsby’ of Cricket
Young cricketer Sarfaraz Khan’s entry into the sporting field is in many ways similar to Jay Gatsby’s journey in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s literary masterpiece ‘The Great Gatsby’. The piece remains a sermon about the life of a character who loses his life in pursuit of his dreams. True, for Gatsby, the lows overshadowed the successes, but in his belief that “life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall”, he managed to carve out his own legacy. Sarfaraz Khan too, in many ways seems to replicate the great Gatsby’s undeterred nature to chase his dreams, but he too has been prone to failures and sufferings just like the fictional hero.
Emerging as a 12-year-old in the Harris Shield for scoring 439 runs in 2009, Khan gave glimpses of a talented cricketer who took his talent to another level in the Under-19 World Cup of 2014. He scored 211 runs in the tournament and as is the norm, he caught the attention of the IPL franchises and in 2015, he turned out for Royal Challengers Bangalore in a debut that was memorable and indeed special.
After AB de Villiers had set the Chinaswamy on fire against Rajasthan Royals, the spectators and even the team management failed to predict the carnage that would follow suit. After the South African departed for a well-made 57, in walked Khan amid shouts of “ABD ABD” and anyone who has been around the cricket circuit will be well-aware that it takes a super-human effort to drown the feats of the maverick Mr. 360. However, in the next 21 deliveries and over the next 45 runs, a stout and short seventeen-year-old managed to do just that, leaving the audiences in the vociferous stadium stunned and in awe.
A back-of-the-hand slower ball by James Faulkner was attacked by the youngster with ease. Till then, the very same delivery had managed to floor the other legends in the T20 league, but on that night, Sarfaraz Khan attacked it as if it was nothing. He moved outside the line of the ball in a bid to reverse sweep. He had already hit Faulkner for a four earlier, but on this occasion, his bat handle fails to support him, flipping in the process and causing Khan to play with the back of his bat. Though he managed just a single, this delivery showcased a cricketer who, despite his young age, possessed a mature head and his anger at himself for failing to convert a well-bowled delivery for a four suggested his wisdom that went beyond his years.
From 157 in 17 overs, he guided the home team to 200 and as his captain-in-charge Virat Kohli stood up to salute him and as the chants in the Chinaswamy changed to “Sar-fa=raaz”, one knew that it was the beginning of a fairy-tale.
Three years hence, one is unable to remove the images of a downfallen Gatsby as Khan remains seated on the sidelines, watching in horror as his magical start is on the verge of a breakdown. Though in the interim, he played the Under-19 World Cup in 2016 – scoring five fifties in six games – he has been plagued by inconsistencies and injuries, which have threatened to cast a shadow over his career. After averaging 27.75 in 13 games in the IPL in 2015, Khan emerged stronger next year to average 33 in the first 5 games of the season. With a strike-rate of 212.90, the Uttar Pradesh cricketer was expected to churn out yet another inspired displayed but Kohli surprised one and all by dropping him for the rest of the season.
The reason though did come as a shock. “Sarfaraz understands the areas in which he needs to work on as far as the fitness and fielding part is concerned. You can’t afford to have too many guys in the field who are not up to the mark with their fielding because the outfield here is lightning quick. I want to have a guy who gives 120 per cent on the field and saves some crucial runs.”
Coming from one of the fittest cricketers, Khan knew that no amount of potential or talent could get him back in the reckoning until he improved his fitness levels and for the next few months, he trained hard to match up to the standards that were expected by Kohli. However, call it destiny or misfortune, a knee injury before the 2017 IPL spilled waters on his efforts and he had to miss the tenth edition of the league. With Khan missing more than half of the 2016 season and the whole of the last one, it did come as a major surprise when the RCB team decided to retain him ahead of the eleventh edition of the T20 league.
His domestic form was hardly impressive and hence, choosing him over the likes of KL Rahul and Yuzvendra Chahal hardly made much of a sense. Maybe, the franchise genuinely trusted Khan to don the role of the finisher with ease or he was retained purely due to logistics, but whatever the reasons may have been, it was clear that the responsibilities on the young player had increased manifold.
Year after year, the RCB camp have been blessed with an attacking batting line-up upfront but they seem to struggle lower down the order. Sarfaraz was entrusted with the role of carrying on the good work that had been laid down by Kohli and ABD in the first few seasons of the tournament this season, but below-par returns left the RCB squad yearning for more.
He scored 6 from 10 in the first game and followed it up with a golden duck in the next. Pawan Negi, who was bought back via the Right To Match card was given a chance in RCB’s third game but a knock off 3 in 4 balls meant that Khan got a look-in against Mumbai Indians.
With a knock of 5 in 6 deliveries against Delhi Daredevils, he was back warming the bench again against Chennai Super Kings and before he turns out a player who is thrust into the oblivion, Khan would be hoping for that one chance that can change over his fortunes.