It was eight IPLs ago that Sarfaraz Khan broke into the scene as a 17-year-old and attained overnight stardom via an unbelievable 21-ball 45* against Rajasthan, batting at No.6.
Or, in other words, when Sarfaraz Khan made his IPL debut at the Chinnaswamy in 2015, Sai Sudharsan was a 13-year-old still three years away from giving his 10th board exams.
It would, in fact, not be until six years later, in 2021, that Sudharsan would go on to make his professional debut at the domestic level for Tamil Nadu — and by that point, Sarfaraz was already a Ranji behemoth.
You get the gist: Sarfaraz is the Virat Kohli to Sudharsan’s KL Rahul. There’s a mismatch in terms of experience, to the extent that it can unanimously be agreed that Sarfaraz, the senior of the two by some distance, has no business not being the runaway leader on every statistical aspect on the batting front.
Well, here’s a fair warning: look away if you’re a Sarfaraz fan, for the next bit is going to hurt.
Sudharsan walked away from the Arun Jaitley Stadium not just with the Player of the Match award, but with the distinction of having scored more IPL fifties than Sarfaraz. In 41 fewer games.
In fairness, Sarfaraz hasn’t batted in 13 of the 48 IPL matches he’s played so technically, Sudharsan has scored more IPL fifties than him in only 28 fewer innings (yay, major win).
And he’s batted nearly 43% of his career at No.6 or lower so that’s there.
Still, the mere fact that a 21-year-old that burst onto the scene just a season ago has already managed to accumulate more fifties than Sarfaraz, who’s now been around for eight years, is a damning indictment of his T20 career, which has been in limbo for the best part of seven years.
Among other things, as alluded to above, the lack of a consistent run at the top of the order has played its part in hindering Sarfaraz’s ability to pile up big runs.
The five games he played at No.4 for Punjab back in IPL 2019 remains, to date, his longest run in the top five in the competition. He fared well in that mini run, amassing 180 runs at an average of 45 and SR of 125.9, but never really managed to make the spot his own.
And so down the order he went, again, in the following season with PBKS, before being shuffled around.
Opportunities in the top five arose once more last season, thanks to DC being an Indian batter short, but yet again Sarfaraz was unable to truly seize the chance despite showing flashes of brilliance.
Two games into the IPL 2023 season, it’s unfortunately been the same old story: Sarfaraz has failed to make the most of his chances and has left his immediate future at the hands of the management.
Axing any player after a couple of outings would be really harsh, but should he get dropped, can Sarfaraz really blame anyone but himself?
He had everything he could ask for: a new season, a fresh start, a management willing to back him from game one and, most importantly, a place in his preferred top four position.
He was unlucky to be at the wrong end of an all-time spell from Mark Wood in Lucknow but on Tuesday in Delhi, the stage set itself: home venue, batting first and into bat early (inside the powerplay) with an experienced head (Warner) at the other end.
No player could ask for more. Certainly not someone that’s looking to leave a mark after years of squandering chances.
But as it turned out, Sarfaraz ended up playing arguably the most painful knock of his eight-year-long IPL career, limping and staggering to 30 off 34 balls, before holing out in the deep trying to take Rashid Khan on.
Outside the fact that he prevented a collapse, there were no redeeming qualities about Sarfaraz’s knock as both debutant Abhishek Porel (20 off 11 balls) and Axar Patel (36 off 22 balls) debunked any myth about the pitch being tough to bat on by taking the attack to the Gujarat bowlers.
Only in a utopian world will players not get dropped or shuffled around and will be given an extended run in a fixed position, judged after a minimum threshold of games.
The reality of a tournament like the IPL — where the competition is cutthroat — is that teams will be ruthless, sometimes irrational, and will act out of desperation. When a side goes on a losing streak, there will be collateral damage; that’s the nature of the beast.
Ultimately, though, the show will go on. Players, after all, in the eyes of the franchises, are easily and readily replaceable assets.
The onus is therefore on individuals to make every opportunity count.
In that sense, Sarfaraz has been guilty of letting himself down. Big time.
Can he consider himself hard-done-by should he get axed for the Rajasthan Royals clash on Saturday? Absolutely.
But it’s not the management’s fault that he has no credits in his bank. You can only skate on thin ice so long without shattering it.
Sai Sudharsan was dropped halfway through IPL 2022, and has only made the starting XI this year due to Williamson’s injury, but he’s immediately seized his chance.
He’s earned his rope and has bought himself some leeway and breathing space. In doing so, he’s given himself the best of chances to blossom and take his game to the next level.
Sarfaraz, unfortunately, has never done that — only time will tell if he’s already missed the bus.
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