Sarfaraz Khan, 24, the leading runscorer in this year’s Ranji season, talks about his dream run with the bat, which saw him score 936 runs in six games, his relationship with his father Naushad, who is also his coach, mentor and warden, and his dream of making it to the Indian cricket team.
It’s not an easy task to reach where you are at present. Can you tell us about the kind of effort that has gone into the last 10-12 years?
When I was young, I never thought that I would get my fair share of chances at the Ranji trophy. We used to live in a chawl… my father managed an STD booth along with a dairy business and was also a cricket coach. Studying was never my forte as all my attention was on playing cricket. With Abbu being in the field every day, I was bound to develop an interest there. In 2009, I hit 400 runs for the first time. Abbu used to discipline me.
During that time I used to think why is he scolding me? Although now that I look back, I feel like it was a necessity. We used to wake up at 5am and travel by train from Kurla station to Azad Maidan where we started practising from 7 to 10.
After that, he used to put me in friendly matches, which would go on till 6 or 7 in the evening. It would get really tiring and a long train journey back home lay ahead of me. Inside the train, I would just rest my face standing on one side with the cool breeze blowing against my face and soaking up all the sweat.
We are all aware of the condition of Mumbai locals in the evening; sometimes, a few people were kind enough to offer me their seat. This was my routine which did not change for years.
Sunil Gavaskar said that he would be surprised if you don’t get into the Indian team. What are your thoughts or comments on the same?
It’s a matter of great honour that he thinks so highly of me. If you go to any cricket ground and ask any child practising there what his ultimate goal is, his answer would be that he wants to play for India. I also have the same dream. But my Abbu says, ‘trust the process’. I play in the hope that I get better every day. This is my passion; this is what I have always wanted to do and I never want to come out of this zone. When it will be in my luck, I will play for India.
You told us about your struggles and how you overcame them but the two landmarks in your life, U-14 and IPL, have played the utmost role in shaping you. You must have also earned a fair amount of money through them. What did you do with your first paycheck?
Without a doubt, the money I received from playing under 14 and under 16 helped us a lot financially. We are simple people who have always wished to have a simple life; the only thing that excites us is cricket. We have never wanted a luxury car and we never saw the point of it. Even now, our house gets flooded in knee-deep water during monsoon as we live near Mithi River. We do not wish to give up this house. Our house is filled with cricketing equipment and trophies and that’s how we want it. We limit ourselves from attending any parties or weddings because that’s how we’ve grown to like it — I can’t remember the last time I celebrated my birthday.
You have been playing since a young age and as you mentioned, you have regularly been at the receiving end of your Abbu’s strict nature. Do you think this is the right approach to make a budding sportsman tougher or does it make a person weaker by putting more pressure on him and, in turn, making him more anxious?
It works in a different way for everyone. As a coach, he (my father) was not like that with any other kid. But for me, he knew that if he did not discipline me, my future, my improvement will be at stake… He had many responsibilities. We were financially not sound… I don’t know how others view his disciplinary action but I am very happy.
What was the reason for you to leave Mumbai’s Ranji team and play for Uttar Pradesh. After you rejoined Mumbai, what difference did you see in the team now as compared to your previous stint?
I love the Mumbai team and it was always my dream to find a place in it. There were some issues because of which I had to leave. I remember that when I was packing away my Mumbai Ranji Trophy clothes, I started to cry because I thought I can’t play for the team again.
I did go and join Uttar Pradesh but did not get the desired opportunities in the team there. Whatever promises they made were not working out. So, I told my father that I was either going to quit cricket or return to Mumbai. As per the rules, I had to undergo a one-year cooling period before I could be eligible for the Mumbai team.
This is the time that I practised very hard. When I was making a comeback, a lot of people used to say that getting a place in the Mumbai squad is as difficult as getting a break into the Indian squad. My performance, however, saw me making a re-entry into the squad.
You have been pushing for red ball despite being called a white-ball player. You have talked about your father’s influence… has there been any other person in your life who has been motivating you to pursue the red-ball format?
No. I mean, I’ve played under a lot of coaches. In state, I played under Prashant Shetty, then Vinod Ragvand, Bharat Arun Sir, and Pravin Amre. They have all taught me the technique but no coach has told me to focus on red ball or anything, it’s just that my father knew that I could do that and I put in the hard work.
My father used to tell me that in white ball, there is money and fame. But if you become a Test cricketer at least once in your life, you will get a different type of respect…So, the hard work went on. My father’s belief was that I could play in everything – be it T20 or Test.
Virat Kohli, and a lot of top footballers and athletes advise that one should follow a diet to stay on top. Do you follow any diet?
When I played IPL in 2005-06, my fitness level was not good and Virat Kohli had also told me that. After that, I improved my fitness but I again put on weight. But in the last two years, I have been very disciplined about my health. Everyone’s body is different, but it should not affect my game. For the last eight years, I have been in the IPL and clearing fitness tests. In my off-season also, I will pay attention to my health and fitness.
When we were not informed about diet practices, we used to eat anything. But now, we are strict about our diet. In our house, we used to have non-vegetarian food every day. However, now we avoid eating biryani and other rice dishes. We either eat it on Sundays or other occasions.