ICC Under 19 Cricket World Cup final: Sarfaraz Khan shines on the big stage
Sunday, 14 February 2016.
Today is symbolic of many things. Today is the birthday of former footballer and manager Kevin Keegan. Today is the 25th anniversary of the film “The Silence of the Lambs”. Today is Valentine’s Day.
Today is also a chance. A chance for eleven young men. Cricket’s next big things.
Today is the ICC Under-19 World Cup final. India versus West Indies.
It’s likely the first time these tender psyches will have experienced pressure like this. The magnitude of the occasion. A chance to become heroes. A chance to become villains.
It’s extremely silly to speak of heroism and villainy at this point in a career. But such is the intensely narrative driven nature of modern sport that these stories are written anyway.
Rishabh Pant has already become a hero for his glorious hundred against Namibia. He has already been picked up in the IPL auction. This final is a chance to leave Bangladesh as the hottest young commodity in the world. His story is half-written.
There is another who grabs his chance. He grabs his chance today, of all days, in the final. He grabs it when Rishab Pant does not.
Sarfaraz Naushad Khan’s innings against the bright young things of West Indies cricket is perfectly representative of him – full of confidence, authority and a brutish elegance.
The pitch at the Shere Bangla stadium in Mirpur for this final is in a right state. There is practically a green baize carpet on the wicket, and it increasingly looks like the game will turn on the toss.
The West Indies haven’t won a toss at any time in this tournament. So, of course, today is the day they break their duck and put India in.
It’s going to be difficult. A carpet of a pitch and a clutch of young Caribbean fast bowlers who can reach speeds their physiques shouldn’t be capable of.
When the going gets tough, the tough get going. Sarfaraz Khan is the ideal man for this kind of operation. The massive expectations rest lightly on his broad shoulders.
Sarfaraz has been the most consistent of the Indian batsmen. Four half centuries so far in this tournament, he is scheduled to come in at number four.
It begins badly. Very badly. The centurion and opener Rishabh Pant leaves his story incomplete. A surreal dismissal that Pant has only himself to blame for. A bizarre lapse in concentration.
Safaraz’s manner is seductive. Cricketing skill is one thing, but the impression of that skill is quite another. Great players don’t always have both. Sarfaraz doesn’t have half the career of Ricky Ponting or Virat Kohli but the swagger of both. He’s a real charmer.
His upper body bulk is awesome. Others might look like chubby, red-cheeked schoolboys if they were built like him, but there is something about this Mumbai lad that screams a maturity beyond his years – even though he should be writing his secondary school exams right now.
That physical presence, that brash stride. The arrogance of youth personified. He seems irked that Washington Sundar was promoted to number four ahead of him. It’s a slight on his professional pride, a suggestion of doubt in his capabilities.
Great players know that they are great. They don’t always make it obvious, but some like Sarfaraz Khan brook no argument whatsoever.
But today, he walks into a situation most wouldn’t envy him for. India are 27-3 with a little more than six overs bowled. The West Indian bowlers have the batsmen hopping. But cometh the hour, cometh the man.
The first ball, he ducks under a bouncer. It’s as though Alzarri Joseph recognises the significance of the batsman at the crease, as the bull who can shift the momentum around with one mighty swipe, and he mentally prepares himself for it.
It’s a rare quality that is present in only the best. The ability, by their mere presence, to force the opposing bowler to consciously elevate their game, to raise their mental conditioning to superhuman levels.
To win this battle and claim the prize scalp. Alzarri Joseph has been great in this tournament, and is wreaking havoc here. The fact that he considers Sarfaraz worthy of that extra 10% effort is a tribute to the Indian.
It’s a quality that was found in Sachin Tendulkar in years past. Allan Donald earmarked Sachin and the Waugh brothers as the ones he tried just that little bit harder for.
It’s become a mano-a-mano duel. Peppered with short bowling from the off, Sarfaraz is doing okay so far; he’s survived his first seven balls without major incident.
The eighth is dispatched to the boundary, a classy elegant drive with just a hint of front foot movement through the offside.