Pakistan rewarded for trusting old-school custodian Sarfraz Ahmed
Finally, the question reached Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. A day before the game against South Africa, on live television, Pakistan’s funniest man, Umar Sharif, before wondering whether it was America, or Russia, that was against the inclusion of Sarfraz Ahmed in playing XI, shot a plea to the nation’s most important Miansaab. “Aap ne toh sirf ek phone karna hai (you need to make just one call),” he pleaded to the PM to put in a word for the young and deserving wicketkeeper.
Before that the 27-year-old, who has scored 3 centuries in the last 6 Tests, had got the backing of Pakistan’s top cricket administrators Shaharyar Khan and Najam Sethi. There was hardly any talking head in Pakistan who seconded Waqar Younis’ idea of playing the World Cup with part-time wicket-keeper Umar Akmal. “He is the worst keeper in his family and that isn’t saying much,” someone had said in the press box before the India-Pakistan game.
It’s unlikely that Miansaab would have taken the funny man seriously, but Sarfraz was the first man out of the dressing room against South Africa. He would score a 49-ball 49 and take a record-breaking six catches. But anybody who has followed his career closely will tell you that Sarfraz isn’t just about runs and assists. He brings to the table something that’s as important and handy as salt and pepper. He gives this Pakistan team a voice on the field.
The boy from Karachi is a throwback to the glovemen of the 80s and 90s, those daring men who were the cheerleaders for their team when behind the stumps and crisis managers when in front of it. Those men with motor mouths had sharp tongues and sharper hands. For years, in India and Pakistan, you needed to shout 300 ‘shabhashs’ if you got the big gloves while fielding. In case, the bowler was hit for a four or six, it would be ‘koi baat nai, shabhash’.
Stump mics were new then, the wicket-keepers loved to be heard and fans strained their ears to catch every word they spoke. Saleem Yousuf, Moin Khan, Rashid Latif, Sadanand Vishwanath, Kiran More, Nayan Mongia, they were commentators even during the playing days.
Sarfraz is an old-school wicket-keeper. From the usual ‘well bowled’ to senior spinners Shahidbhai or Saeedbhai, ‘upar and chhota dalo’ suggestions to pacers to the ultimate shout of hope to everyone who hears him on field ‘milay ga, milay ga’; Sarfraz can do the entire routine. He, actually, is the voice of the fans. He says what millions want to shout from the couch. Though, primarily it’s his runs and discipline behind stumps that are responsible for the public outcry demanding his inclusion, the contribution of constant chatter to his fame can’t be discounted.
After the Australia Test series where he scored the match-turning century, skipper Misbah-ul-Haq had said that Sarfraz had breathed new life and vigour into the Pakistan team. “For a while we had been struggling to find anyone who could contribute in this way at this batting position in Tests or ODIs. All in all, this is a great positive for us in the way he is playing and most importantly, the fact that he’s playing so well at the right time as we approach the 2015 World Cup. Sarfraz is like oxygen for this team.” Now you know what Misbah meant. As is the case, it’s only when Pakistan start complaining of breathlessness that the oxygen cylinder is brought out.
Hurt India in the past
Indian fans might not remember but Sarfraz brought them World Cup heartbreak few years back. In 2006, he led Pakistan to the under-19 World title. Even as a teenager he gave a rousing speech in the dressing room when Pakistan was all out for 109. Before the game, I had met Sarfraz in his room which he shared with the team’s star pacer Anwar Ali.
Both the boys were from Karachi and grew up together but it was very clear who decided who slept on which side of the bed. There was an authority in his voice as he spoke to Ali that day, explaining to him the importance of the World Cup final against India. On the field, from the time the Indian openers walked in to chase 109, he would shout, “Bus ek aur wicket, bus ek aur wicket”.
Hearing this, Ali would run in as if in a trance. He was bowling like Akram, the young skipper resembled Imran Jr. Ali would get 5/35, India was all out of 71, losing the final by 38. After the win Sarfraz, shrieking like a man possessed, ran towards his coach, jumped on him, almost pinning him down like a wrestler. On that sorrowful evening for India at Colombo, it was evident that the world would hear a lot about the boy who never stopped talking from behind the stumps.
Source:: Indian Express