Despite Sarfaraz Khan’s century, Ranji Trophy final hangs in balance

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Bangalore: Sarfaraz Khan (134, 243b, 13×4, 2×6) completed his transformation from Mumbai cricket’s resident ‘enfant terrible’ to ‘Man Friday’ with a superb hundred that propelled Mumbai to a competitive score of 374 on the second day of their Ranji Trophy final against Madhya Pradesh here Thursday. In reply Madhya Pradesh came back in a strong manner scoring 123 for the loss of one wicket stumps. With the pitch not holding any terrors for the batters, the match now looks evenly poised.

Courtesy Sarfaraz’s fourth hundred of the season the 41-time champions managed a fighting score after beginning the day at 248 for five. But Madhya Pradesh won’t be too unhappy as they finished the second day strongly with Yash Dubey (44 batting, 131b, 6×4) and Shubham Sharma (41 batting, 65b, 5×4) adding 76 runs for the unbroken second wicket.

The day belonged to none other than Sarfaraz Khan, who has now scored an astounding 937 runs in Ranji Trophy in just six games. He could make it 1,000 runs for the season if Mumbai bat again in this match. Sarfaraz hit two huge sixes – one over square leg off left-arm spinner Kumar Kartikeya and one down the ground off off-spinner Saransh Jain.

But what stood out was how he managed the innings after Shams Mulani was trapped leg before by Gourav Yadav (4/106) in the opening over of the second day with the score on 248.

Sarfsraz’s batting with the tail showed his new-found maturity, which is proving to be a boon for Mumbai cricket. Sarfaraz chose loose deliveries for boundary, forcing MP captain Aditya Shrivastava to open the field.

The manner in which Sarfaraz has turned a corner since the 2019-20 season (928 runs back then) is phenomenal. He had disciplinary issues early in his career, which also forced him to leave Mumbai for a season.

With father Naushad Khan, who also doubles up as his coach, making him play 400 balls (nearly 67 overs including nets and knocking) a day at practice, Sarfaraz 2.0 is a battle-hardened man, the ‘khadoos street fighter’ that any captain would want to go to a war with.

Once he reached his 50, Sarfaraz touched the lion’s crest on his jersey, gesturing “Don’t worry, I am going nowhere’. His batting isn’t as pleasing to the eye as Prithvi Shaw’s but highly effective and assuring. He knows how to score those runs on a track that is largely two-paced and in overcast conditions with the ball doing a fair bit.

When MP skipper spread the field to stop boundaries, Sarfaraz still found his way to play the controlled square-cut off seamer Anubhav Agarwal, which bisected the two fielders stationed at deep extra cover and deep point to the fence.

Having entered the 90s, Sarfaraz played a typical T20 scoop over the keeper’s head while being partially blindsided and completely off-balance. It was a sight worth capturing.

At 97, MP skipper Shrivastava put all his fielders at the boundary line with two standing at long-on and long-off. The ploy wasn’t good enough to stop Sarfaraz as he thumped one over bowler’s head which went to the boundary.

The Indian Test team’s middle-order is still jam-packed but the manner in which Sarfaraz is batting, to put it in head coach Rahul Dravid’s words, he is not just knocking but banging the selection door down.

Sarfaraz was involved in four small, but very effective, partnerships which could prove to be decisive if the match turns out to be an affair of one innings. He added 40 for seventh wicket with Tanush Kotian (15), 26 for the eighth wicket with Dhawal Kulkarni (1), 39 for the ninth with Tushar Deshpande (6) and another 21 priceless runs for the final wicket with Mohit Avasthi (7).

By the time, he became Mumbai’s last batter to be dismissed, he had ensured that the total is good enough for his bowlers to defend.

But there are ominous signs as MP batters have looked solid so far and Mumbai’s bowling line-up hasn’t made much of an impact, save Tushar Deshpande’s delivery that straightened to find Himanshu Mantri’s (31) pads.

Mumbai 374 (Sarfaraz Khan 134, Gaurav Yadac 4/106, Anubhav Agarwal 3/81); Madhya Pradesh 123 for 1 (Yash Dubey 44 batting, Subham Sharma 41 batting). Match to continue.

 

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