Vijay Merchant, Ajit Wadekar, Sunil Gavaskar, Sanjay Manjrekar, Wasim Jaffer, Rohit Sharma … and now Sarfaraz Khan, members of the Mumbai triple centurions’ club in Ranji Trophy cricket, after the 22-year-old hit an unbeaten 301 to help Mumbai take the first-innings honours despite conceding 625 against Uttar Pradesh at the Wankhede Stadium.

While questions could – and should – be raised over the playing surface, where 1313 runs were scored over four days for the loss of just 15 wickets, it should take nothing away from the knock that has just about managed to keep Mumbai’s stuttering campaign alive. They are currently 12th in the combined Group A and B table, and are potentially just a win away from entering the top five. While the position they find themselves in isn’t ideal, they would be encouraged by the recent upswing in fortunes.

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Last week in Chennai, they recovered from 129 for 5 on the first morning to post 488 on the back of a superb century from Aditya Tare, the stand-in captain. This set the tone for them to walk away with three points after they secured a lead against an equally deflated Tamil Nadu side.

This time, they saw Uttar Pradesh notch up a big score after they had removed half the side with just 281 on the board, with wicketkeeper Upendra Yadav making a fifth of his career runs in a single innings alone from No. 7 (203 not out).

Sarfaraz walked in to bat on the third day with Mumbai tottering on 128 for 4, 497 behind. He later admitted to walking out to a lot of chirp from the UP team. After all, three years ago, Sarfaraz was part of Wankhede’s away dressing room, playing for UP against Mumbai, the side that nurtured him from age-group cricket. Lack of assurance from the Mumbai Cricket Association (MCA) in terms of his place in the side played a hand in Sarfaraz’s move to UP, his home state. His performances there weren’t inspiring, and issues with his fitness and discipline led to him being sidelined.

“He has matured a bit now. He is more selective, but still with the range of shots he has, he can bat at No. 5 and 6 and win matches for us”

Aditya Tare on Sarfaraz Khan

“I was just delighted and would like to thank MCA for giving me another chance. It [century] was due for a long time. I am glad I scored my first century for Mumbai,” Sarfaraz told Mid-day. “It was daddy’s [coach Naushad Khan] decision [to play for UP]. I still remember when I was leaving for UP and packing my Mumbai Ranji team’s clothing, I was literally crying because of my love for Mumbai. I never thought I would play for Mumbai again. I still can’t believe I came back and played for Mumbai. It’s like a dream.”

This time in the home dressing room, after serving a cooling-off period, he was trying to give his career another push with his team in trouble. He had just made one half-century in three innings prior to the UP game, and shook off any signs of nerves by playing the way he does. He put together stands of 210 with Siddhesh Lad, 179 with Tare, and then 150 with Shams Mulani to give Mumbai a lead. It was a special effort given Sarfaraz battled cramps, a wonky hamstring, and a bout of fever during the course of the two days he batted.

“Actually I wasn’t going to come out to bat,” Sarfaraz said. “Adu bhai (Tare) was going to come in my place. I was having fever and cough, I wasn’t well for the last two or three days. Last night (Tuesday), I was okay-okay, but the fever returned during the lunch break. But I felt I should go out to bat, I felt I was the kind of player who could change the game if I remained in the middle.”

Sarfaraz said the bouts of pain from his hamstring just prior to the tea interval was a result of cramping. “I hadn’t eaten anything since morning, I don’t eat usually while I’m batting,” he said. “I was tired. During the tea break, I said ‘ab bas yaar, ho gaya (that’s it, I’ve had enough)’. When I got to 250, I thought I must walk off, but the team kept backing me.”

Sarfaraz’s return to form bodes well for a side that is without designated captain Suryakumar Yadav, Prithvi Shaw, Ajinkya Rahane and Shardul Thakur, all of whom are either away in New Zealand or preparing to fly out to join the national team. Tare, who is currently leading Mumbai, felt Sarfaraz had matured as a player since he had last played for them.

“He has a better head on his shoulders now than when he last played for us,” Tare said. “He was young, used to play a lot more shots then. He has matured a bit now. He is more selective, but still with the range of shots he has, he can bat at No. 5 and 6 and win matches for us.”



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