‘Sir, please say sorry to Mr Gavaskar’ – Sarfaraz Khan’s message after soft dismissal

India’s Test newcomer was crestfallen after giving his wicket away during Test series against England, and relayed an apology via Dubai businessman Shyam Bhatia

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When Sunil Gavaskar took Sarfaraz Khan to task on commentary for his errant shot selection during the Dharamsala Test match, his disappointment had been personal.

The 26-year-old batter had been tracking well in his third Test match for India and appeared to be closing in on a first century, against a wilting England bowling attack.

Then, to the first ball after tea on day two with his score on 56, he donated his wicket to Shoaib Bashir with a limp cut to slip.

Gavaskar, who was on air at the time, was unimpressed. "The ball was pitched up, it wasn't short enough for that shot,” the former India batting great said.

“Goes for it and pays the price. I mean you are playing the first ball after tea. Give yourself a little sighter.

“Don Bradman said to me, 'Every ball that I face, even if I am on 200, I think I am on 0.' And here is [Sarfaraz], playing such a shot first ball of the session.”

There was a reason Gavaskar felt invested in his innings. The duo had shared a 45-minute meeting on the first evening of the Test, during which the senior of the two had dispensed some valuable wisdom to the youngster from Mumbai.

The number one lesson had been shot selection. So crestfallen had Sarfaraz been by the dismissal, he sent an apology to Gavaskar, via the Dubai-based businessman who had set up the meeting in the first place.

“Sunil was telling him that the most important thing is selection of shots,” Shyam Bhatia said of the trio’s meeting at their hotel in Dharamshala.

“It is very important. He was talking to him for around 45 minutes. Then in the match, immediately after tea he got out to a very stupid shot.

“Sunil was so angry, and asked on commentary what he was doing. The next day, Sarfaraz was with me again and said, ‘Sir, please say sorry to Mr Gavaskar – I made a mistake! I won’t make that mistake again.’”

Thanks to Bhatia, Gavaskar and Sarfaraz go way back. The businessman had introduced them to each other when the latter was just 14 years old and taking the Mumbai cricket scene by storm.

Sarfaraz had come to national renown in India aged 12 when he broke Sachin Tendulkar’s record for the highest score in the Harris Shield, an inter-school tournament, after making 439.

Bhatia had met him the following year when Sarfaraz’s father, Naushad, had approached him for help.

“He was 13 when his father came to talk to me about his cricket, and I gave him a cricket kit for the first time,” Bhatia said.

As well as sponsoring his kit, Bhatia also sent the young prodigy, as well as his brother, Musheer, for coaching in England.

It was a kindness Sarfaraz has not forgotten. During the final Test of his long-awaited debut Test series, he gave Bhatia his bat, signed with the message: “Thank you so much for everything.”

Bhatia was grateful for the memento, but was more thrilled to see the success Sarfaraz made of his belated first foray into the Test sphere.

“He put up huge scores in Ranji Trophy first-class cricket where he has an average of around 75 [recently],” Bhatia said.

“He was waiting but not getting a chance [to play for India]. There were a lot of high-class batters in the way. But now, with Virat [Kohli] and [KL] Rahul not playing, he has had that chance. And he performed.”

Having played a part in Sarfaraz’s rise to the top, Bhatia might soon be toasting a similar elevation.

Sarfaraz’s brother, Musheer, hit two hundreds at the Under-19 World Cup in January, then a double century for Mumbai in the Ranji Trophy, marking himself out as another player of great promise.

Bhatia says their success is a tribute to the hard work of their father, Naushad. They had first formed an affinity when Naushad played domestic cricket for Mashreq Bank in Dubai and Sharjah.

“He went back and was coaching his boys,” Bhatia said. “His dream was always for them to play Test cricket for India.

“They were living hand to mouth, and I wanted to help because I could see [Sarfaraz] had a lot of talent and commitment.

“Their success has come because of the big commitment of the father and son. If Sarfaraz was playing a match 9am, his father would get up at 5am, and from 6.30-8am he would practice with him.

“Then they would come to the ground to play. This is commitment. He would make them play with a red ball, get a muddy pitch, and teach them how to play spin, using an old ball, then a new ball.

“It was such a commitment to it. Life was just cricket, cricket, cricket.”

Updated: March 12, 2024, 2:55 AM