Sarfaraz Khan shows what India were missing in third Test against England

Half-century by debutant and tons by captain Rohit and Jadeja put hosts in control in Rajkot

India's Sarfaraz Khan, left, hit a sizzling fifty in the company of Ravindra Jadeja, who scored a ton, on the first day of the third Test against England at the Niranjan Shah Stadium in Rajkot. Reuters
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India captain Rohit Sharma scored a fine century; all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja got promoted up the order after an early collapse and he also reached three figures on Thursday. But for India, the hero of the day was debutant Sarfaraz Khan.

The 26-year-old hit 62 from just 66 balls on the opening day of the third Test against England in Rajkot, helping the hosts reach 326-5 and take control of the match. And as good as his short yet entertaining innings was, it still did not match the toil behind the journey to his debut.

Sarfaraz had been overlooked by successive selection committees for red-ball cricket. He was not given a chance despite averaging over 80 in first-class cricket since 2020, to go with his career average of 70. He was perceived as not being fit enough for international cricket, while his weakness against high-quality pace was also talked about.

Had it not been for multiple injuries, absences and loss of form of players in the first-choice XI, Sarfaraz would not have been in the picture. But here he was, against all odds, making his Test bow against England with the five-match series delicately poised at 1-1.

Granted, India were well-placed at 237-4 when Sarfaraz walked out to bat against a tiring England attack on arguably the flattest deck in India. But two fellow young batsmen ahead of him, in both the batting and pecking order – Shubman Gill and Rajat Patidar – were all at sea on the same wicket and never looked like imposing themselves the way Sarfaraz did.

The England spinners who had somehow tied India down in the first two Tests had no answer to the free-flowing and fearless strokeplay of Sarfaraz, who saved his best for the most potent England bowler, Tom Hartley, by lofting him down the ground at will.

His carefree batting was a refreshing departure from the generally constrained approach of the hosts against an inexperienced spin attack.

Sarfaraz brought out the slog sweep as soon as he arrived at the wicket, using the crease effectively and smashing nine fours and a six during his 62. He hardly put a foot wrong and looked set to reach three figures on his debut, only to be run out at the non-striker's end while looking for a quick single that would have given Jadeja his century, right towards the end of the day's play.

Jadeja, the dressing room, the crowd, and the Khan family were crestfallen. Sarfaraz's father Naushad, who is also his coach, was in Rajkot as his son first reached a 48-ball fifty – second fastest on debut by an Indian – and then got run out a few overs later.

Jadeja did reach his century the next ball, helping India close out the day on 326-5. His unbeaten 110 off 212 balls with nine fours and two sixes was what held India's innings together after the departure of his captain.

Sharma had to do the repair work as the makeshift top order failed once again. Opener Yashasvi Jaiswal's flamboyant style resulted in an edge to slip off Mark Wood, while the indifferent Gill edged a nothing ball from the same bowler behind. Patidar spooned a dolly off Hartley to cover as India were jolted inside the first 45 minutes.

Jadeja was pushed up the order to maintain the right-left balance and the two batted normally for most of the day, putting together a double-century stand and pulling India in front.

Sharma was attacked by a barrage of bouncers from Wood after he reached three figures and eventually fell to a pull for a well-made 131. India still had not crossed 250, and two of the remaining six batsmen were debutants – wicketkeeper Dhruv Jurel being the other.

That was the moment Safaraz chose to shine. Years of toil in the unforgiving maidans of Mumbai and an even longer wait for his India cap were evident as Sarfaraz went about flaying the England attack.

The only questions that remained at the end of the day's play were why he was ignored for so long – at least for home Tests – and what is stopping other players in the Indian team from batting like him?

Updated: February 15, 2024, 1:14 PM