‘Whenever I am batting, the mood in the dressing room is relaxed’

The past few days have been tough to walk through for Sarfaraz Khan. Only hours ago had the 25-year-old conceded to The Indian Express that ‘he wasn’t able to sleep’ after he was not picked in India’s Test squad for the first two Tests against Australia. But with the support and trust of his Mumbai teammates, he dispelled the disappointment to construct a Ranji Trophy century against Delhi.

“Everyone supports me. The team trusts me so much and I don’t want to break that,” he said at the end of day one’s play at the Arun Jaitley Stadium. “Jab tak mai wicket pe rehta hu, team ka mahol thanda hi rehta hai. Mujhe accha lagta hai ki mai waha enjoy karu aur ye log yaha enjoy karein. ( Whenever I am batting, the mood in the dressing room is relaxed. I feel good that I am enjoying myself in the middle and they are in the dressing room).

Enjoy is just what the Mumbai dugout did as Sarfaraz thigh-fived after picking a single to reach triple figures against Delhi, eventually 125 runs off 155 deliveries. ‘What a shot’ shoutouts had followed throughout his innings, at times even when he nudged the ball for doubles. Just as he reached his century, standing ovations and a hat-tip followed.

Mumbai coach Amol Mazumdar couldn’t resist saluting him. The latter provides some context. “Amol sir keeps telling me, ‘Your job is to score runs. You are the one who, if our wickets fall early, can take the game to the opposition,” Sarfaraz said.

Marathon run

Sarfaraz has scored the most runs for Mumbai across the previous two Ranji editions, and only sits behind Sir Don Bradman in terms of batting average after 53 first class innings. A stat he shared on Instagram after his recent snub from India’s Test team.

“No one can argue over Sir Don Bradman. Khushi hoti hai ki mai unke record ke aaju baaju chalte rha hu teen saal se (Happy that I am moving there or thereabouts his record). It won’t stay the same all the time,” the Mumbai middle-order batter said after his recent hundred, third this season.

Finding answers, asking questions

When Sarfaraz walked in to bat, Mumbai were three down at 62. Four runs later, they’d lose another, the in-form captain Ajinkya Rahane.

It took the 25-year-old 25 deliveries before hitting his first boundary of the day. But once he did, Sarfaraz discovered his rhythm, adding 144 runs for the fifth wicket alongside Shams Mulani. “We knew he’ll counter-attack in the second session,” said Delhi all-rounder Pransh Vijayran.

While Vijayran was successful in tempting Mumbai batters including captain Rahane to the outside-the-off-stump trap, Sarfaraz kept his calm, going only after his odd loose ball.

Harshit Rana was dispatched down the ground on the off when he pitched further up. Switching round the wicket and pitching short next over barely helped as Sarfaraz hooked him for another maximum. “The wicket had bounce and they were swinging the ball as well, so I was taking my time in the first session. I knew there’ll be an opportunity to score after lunch, owing to laziness after eating and that’s exactly what happened.”

Sarfaraz further flexed his ability to play spin by forcing Delhi to take Hrithik Shokeen off the attack after he scored for 14 runs off the off spinner’s second over. Against left-arm spinner Yogesh Sharma, he illustrated a variety of avenues to score big, dancing down the track, sweeping, cover driving and back-foot punching his way through before eventually being stumped while looking for glory.

“There’s no grass on good length at one side of the wicket, from where they were bowling spin. I was thinking of not letting them settle in and take control of the play before they do so.”

Brief Scores: Mumbai (Sarfaraz Khan 125, Shams Mulani 39) 293 all out vs Delhi (Pransh Vijayran 4/66)

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