Underdog alert: Let Sarfraz Ahmed play, PCB!
He bats like Saeed Ajmal and keeps like Kamran Akmal. He is simply a quota player. No one knows why selectors are so kind to Sarfraz Ahmed.
These are some of the many comments which have been posed against Sarfraz - the man who was the real architect behind Pakistan’s victory in Sharjah against Sri Lanka, on January 20, 2014.
However, if we keep these comments aside for a moment and relive the scenario of the match, when Sarfraz stepped in just before tea break and swept the game away, I am sure many would disagree with these aforementioned views.
Sharjah Test match, 2014
Pakistan was still 205 runs away from the target of 302 runs. Ahmed Shahzad, Khurram Manzoor and Younis Khan had departed to the locker rooms, without performing any miracles. Critics began speculating an interesting draw. However, at this crucial moment, this ‘quota player’ – with immense courage and risk tacking tendencies – put the team back on the driving seat. Pakistan was back in the game with Sarfraz leading the way.
Here is an excerpt of what George Binoy, assistant editor of Cricinfo.com, had to say about Sarfraz’s role in the match.
“Pakistan needed 195 (runs) in 35 overs at the start of the final session and they had made a tactical decision to send Sarfraz Ahmed in at number five, shortly before the tea break. He proved to be the catalyst and the method he used to attack Rangana Herath’s defensive line oozed with resourcefulness. Herath operated from over the wicket and pitched wide outside leg stump for most of his 19 overs, which cost 100 and yielded no wickets, but when he did so after tea Sarfraz took guard near the wide-ball indicators outside leg stump and lofted inside-out through covers to beat a packed on-side field. After several such shots, Mathews moved a fielder from the leg to the off and Sarfraz promptly slogged Herath over the midwicket boundary to take 15 runs off the 29th over, the most expensive of the match.”
Sarfraz, who faced immense criticism before the Sharjah Test match, became a nationwide hero after his particularly impressive innings of 48 runs on just 46 balls. Former players like Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Rameez Raja praised the brave effort of the young wicketkeeper-batsman against the aggressive bowling.
But this was not the first occasion when the Karachi-born wicketkeeper-batsman scored runs in difficult circumstances.
Here is a review of a few brave knocks by him, in his short cricketing career of just six Test and 26 One Day International (ODI) matches.
Dubai Test match, 2014
Sarfraz Ahmed joined the team only after Adnan Akmal left for Pakistan due to injury. Although he failed to perform in the first inning, the second inning went fairly well. He not only managed to score his very first half century during the match but also saved Pakistan from an innings defeat. His 74-run innings and partnerships with Bilawal Bhatti and Saeed Ajmal gave the host side a lead of 136 runs. Though this wasn’t a really high score for Sri Lanka to chase, it still highlighted Sarfraz’s calibre as a cricketer.
Centurion series 2013, third Test match
Pakistan’s visit last year to South Africa proved to be a nightmare for the whole team. After suffering defeat in two Test matches back to back, the final Test took place in Centurion, South Africa. Pakistan had five wickets down, on just 107 runs, when Sarfraz stepped in.
He added 95 runs with Saeed Ajmal and Ehsan Adil to salvage the match. Finally, Dale Styen took him out when he was standing at a score of 40 runs. Though, Pakistan suffered an innings defeat, one has to admit that Sarfraz showed his potential against strong pacers like Steyn and Vernon Philanders.
Asia Cup 2012 final
The green shirts were facing the Bengal tigers in the tournament’s final. Bangladesh won the toss and opted to field first. Pakistan had lost six early wickets at the score of 133 and it was at this crucial time when Sarfraz joined Boom Boom Shahid Afridi. Although Afridi departed to the pavilion at 178, Sarfraz stayed on playing till the last ball. At the end of those 50 overs, he had topped the scoreboard with 46 runs and had given the bowlers a respectable total of 236 to defend. The results, as we now know, toppled into Pakistan’s favour due to Sarfraz’s perseverance.
It should be mentioned here that when Sarfraz played his important inning of 46 runs in the Asia Cup final, former skipper Aamir Sohail openly stated that selectors must give fair chances to Sarfraz for his performance – but that did not happen. The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) remained adamant on calling back their favourite, Kamran Akmal, to the grounds, which forced Sarfraz to take the back seat.
Now, the time has come to give Sarfraz Ahmed consistent opportunities to showcase his talent. He has the ability to represent Pakistan in all genres of the game and play according to the situation he is placed in.
Calling him Pakistan’s AB De Villiers might be an overstatement but in light of Sarfraz’s performance over the past few matches, one can prophesise that he is on his way to becoming an asset for Pakistan cricket.