It was a decade ago when Sarfraz Ahmed fulfilled a dream with his debut for Pakistan. He did not bat, but two catches to help snare the dangerous Virender Sehwag and Yuvraj Singh sealed a memorable one-day victory in Jaipur against arch-foes India.
As proud as he was, this was not the prelude to a career as his country’s No 1 wicketkeeper as frustration soon followed.
For someone tipped for a bright future after leading the Under-19 side to World Cup glory in 2006, it has taken 10 tough years – culminating in June’s famous ICC Champions Trophy triumph and the honour of Test, T20 and one-day captaincy – for Sarfraz to dispel any doubts about his ability and prove his worth with the same perseverance and pugnacious style he has displayed on the field.
“I never thought like that, what my career would be like,” says the 30-year-old upon reflection.
“My target back then was just to play for the Pakistan team.
“My debut was in 2007, then I got dropped, then I was in and then dropped.
“When I was not part of the national team I was still playing first-class cricket [for Pakistan International Airlines] and just trying to work hard. I did not give up, my dream was still to play for my country.
“And since 2014 I have played regularly and Allah has helped me a lot. I always felt if I had one chance I would be able to prove myself. If Allah gave me a chance then I would take it.”
It was in the UAE where Sarfraz got that chance three years ago during the Test series against Sri Lanka – ironically his first opponents as Test captain when they tour in October.
“I made 48 in the second innings of the [second] Sharjah Test match and we won it,” he recalls, with Pakistan using the Emirates for home games following the terrorist attack on the Sri Lanka team in 2009.
“After this, I continuously did well. Hopefully in the future I will keep trying to do this.”
That Sharjah knock paved the way for Sarfraz to not only establish himself, but excel with two centuries and three fifties in his next five innings against Sri Lanka and Australia. Belief and faith are key components in his progress, and that too for a Pakistan team that has so often failed to fulfill its potential.
Yet there is now hope that Sarfraz has created a ‘band of brothers’ – allied with talent in the shape of batsman Fakhar Zaman, and bowlers Hasan Ali and Mohammad Amir – to make them the best in all formats.
The Champions Trophy proved testament to that, as the eighth-ranked Pakistan overcame a 124-run opening group-stage loss against India to beat South Africa, Sri Lanka and England and reach the final against all odds. There they thrashed favourites India by 180 runs in their first win over their neighbours in a major tournament since 2009.
“It’s not just my dream, but the whole team’s dream to be the No1 team,” he tells Sport360. “And just like we achieved success in the Champions Trophy, hopefully we can continue like that.
“We know this team can get better. This team, it’s a mix of youngsters, seniors, and they are all good.
“Our team may have some youngsters, but many of these players played with me for the Under-19s, juniors, in first-class cricket and all are very good. What they need is support. If they get it, they can get better. I’m not surprised by how well these guys did [in the Champions Trophy] because I know there are good players in Pakistan, at domestic level, other good players coming through just like Fakhar, Hasan Ali, Shadab Khan, Rumman Raees.
“To be the No1 team is not just about winning one cup, but performing day in, day out and in every game at the same high level. Consistency is the most important factor. Before our tour to West Indies [in April] our position was not very good, we were struggling. But we won that series. And then the start of the Champions Trophy we lost to India. But we improved day by day.
“It has been a very difficult journey, but if you are positive anything can happen.”
And Sarfraz will be positive about the greater responsibility bestowed on him after replacing Misbah-ul-Haq as Test captain. “If you play for Pakistan in any form it’s a great honour,” he says.
“When you are captain of all three formats there is extra pressure I know, but at the moment I am enjoying my captaincy and I will try to do the same in the Tests and just enjoy it, no pressure.
“Our next target is to win the Test series against Sri Lanka. Playing in Dubai it’s like our home conditions, we enjoy it there.
“Sri Lanka are a good side but if we perform well in all three departments then we can win the series.”
With the splendid Suffa-Tul-Islam Grand Mosque providing the backdrop and fans crowding closely for selfies and signed bats and balls, Sarfraz holds court in Bradford ahead of his expected T20 debut for English side Yorkshire against Durham on Thursday.
It is not quite Karachi after the Champions Trophy when he returned home to hordes of supporters celebrating the country’s momentous first ICC ODI title since the 1992 World Cup. But he feels just at home in Bradford, where the Pakistani community is prominent to the extent that a smiling Sarfraz knows the city is referred to as ‘Bradistan’.
He is at Bradford Park Avenue, a ground undergoing ambitious redevelopment in a bid to stage first-class cricket again – and whose cricket club has hosted visits from UAE junior teams recently. He was unveiled as Yorkshire’s overseas signing for the remainder of the NatWest T20 Blast as a replacement for Peter Handscomb, who has joined Australia for their tour of Bangladesh.
Compatriots Inzamam-ul-Haq and Younis Khan – along with Sachin Tendulkar and Darren Lehmann – are among the feted foreigners who have starred for the county and Sarfraz, determined yet dignified, is eager to impress.
“I met Younis at our Champions Trophy celebration and he said it was a very good county, with lots of great players,” he adds.
“Our [Pakistan] players will improve if they play here [in England]. Hopefully I will learn a lot and transfer that to the younger players as well.
“Hopefully there’s more to achieve for me too. In cricket, you are still learning day by day, so hopefully I will keep learning.
“My goal is to play my best for every team, for Pakistan, and when I finish cricket, people remember me with good memories. Both as a good player and a good guy.”