Khan will travel to England for a month-long tour as part of the Dubai based G-Force Cricket Academy team.
Featuring alongside upcoming cricketers from the UAE, the 18-year-old is expected to play several matches and train at Epsom College in Surrey.
In last year’s edition of the event, the ‘Cricket Lovers’ tournament comprised of eight teams, with each being involved in as many as twenty matches.
The tournament which is being hosted in unfamiliar territory is bound to test Sarfaraz’s ability as a batsman and might serve as a good learning curve.
Sarfaraz will be accompanied to the UK by his younger brother, Musheer, a young left-arm spinner who is already creating waves in Mumbai cricketing circles.
Musheer had visited England last year for a similar initiative when he was offered a sponsorship deal by Shyam Bhatia’s Cricket for Care organisation and was a part of the G-Force Cricket Academy team.
Naushad Khan, the father and coach of the talented brothers, had then remarked on the importance of the trip in the cricketing career of his younger son.
“These exposure trips are very important. If you get them at such a young age, nothing can be better. Not only will they play matches but also get to learn a lot of things. They might also get to play at the Lord’s Cricket Ground and Musheer is very excited,” he had said.
Sarfaraz seems to be delighted with the opportunity to represent the Dubai academy side.
Speaking to Indian daily Mid-Day on Saturday, Sarfaraz said: “With the onset of the monsoon, it’s difficult to practice in Mumbai. This tour will help me gain some valuable practice.
“I am trying hard to match Virat [Kohli] sir’s expectations. [Shankar] Basu sir has given me a fitness and training schedule. I will work accordingly in England where I will try and reduce my fat levels, keep fit and become stronger.”
Sarfaraz had started the IPL 9 season on a high after scoring a quick-fire 10-ball 35 against the Sunrisers Hyderabad. But he subsequently lost his place in the team to lower-order batsman Sachin Baby as RCB skipper Virat Kohli felt that Sarfaraz needed to work more on his fitness.
Kohli had said: “Sarfaraz understands the areas in which he needs to work on as far as the fitness and fielding part is concerned. You can’t afford to have too many guys in the field who are not up to the mark with their fielding because the outfield here is lightning quick.
“I think Sachin in that aspect is very committed and he is fit and he works on those things. As a captain, I want to have a guy who gives 120 per cent on the field and saves a crucial five to six runs.”
Sarfaraz played in only five matches in this year’s IPL, which was a marked contrast from last year when he had shot to fame for his unconventional batting approach – his bravado earning the plaudits from RCB team-mates AB de Villiers and Chris Gayle.
Internationally, he starred for the India U-19 team in their 2014 and 2016 World Cup campaigns – scoring seven 50-plus scores – the most by any batsman in the tournament to date.
Having missed out on IPL 9, Sarfaraz seems to be determined to overcome his fitness issues. He had recently travelled to Chennai for a training and fitness camp organised by Shankar Basu, who is the strength and fitness trainer for the Bangalore and Indian side.
Sarfaraz will hope that his trip to England will rejuvenate his career and help him break into the Indian team in the near future.
This is his second trip to the UK – he had previously represented the Hull Cricket Club in the Yorkshire League as a promising 16-year-old.
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It speaks to the gravity and magnitude of the Indian team’s performance that there is no doubt which encounter you’re referring to when discussing ‘The Kolkata Test’. India have played out countless encounters in the City of Joy, yet there is no doubt as to which is enshrined in most fans’ consciousness above all others.
It has practically become a byword for the fighting spirit, the sublime cricket and somewhat surreal sense of the improbable that characterised India under Sourav Ganguly’s leadership in the early 2000s. It was the time India took on Steve Waugh’s world champions at Eden Gardens and affected one of the most staggering comebacks in cricketing history.
After being asked to follow-on, the home side’s prospects seemed bleak, but by the end of it all they were winners by 171 runs. VVS Laxman took home the man-of-the-match award for his 281, but the Kolkata Test was also a true coming-of-age for the game’s other big hero.
A SPINNING PRODIGY?
It may seem impossible now to think there was ever doubt over Harbhajan’s inclusion in the side, but there was. Harbhajan was 20 at the time, and with no more than nine Tests under his belt and an average of over 38. He was often competing with leg-spinner Anil Kumble and was not an automatic choice over one of the side’s senior players. As luck would have it, Kumble was injured and missed the series.
It is difficult to think of an instance of a young player grabbing his chance so emphatically. But it was an inauspicious star for Harbhajan and India. Australia took just three days to soundly defeat India by ten wickets first up, in a fitting tribute by the tourists to the memory of Don Bradman, who died the night before proceedings began in Mumbai.
Harbhajan actually did not perform too badly in that game. He was a little expensive (an economy of 4.4), but also collected four wickets in the match. The best, however, was yet to come.
In the next Test at Kolkata, he would take a full 13 wickets. It was the start of a great career and the first heroic display in a list now as long as your arm.
The carnage began on day one. Australia amassed 445 in their first innings after winning the toss and electing to bat. The stand out displays were from Waugh (110) and Matthew Hayden (97), but they were remarkably outshone by the young man from Jalandhar.
The centurion and the almost-centurion were two of seven victims Harbhajan claimed in the first innings. Also among the seven scalps were three in succession – Ricky Ponting, Adam Gilchrist and Shane Warne – the first ever hat-trick by an Indian in Test cricket. It was an historic moment, and a performance remarkable not just for its quality, but also for the way it completely altered the mood of the occasion.
In the space of three balls, Harbhajan had roused the 65,000 strong crowd to their feet and restored morale in the Indian dressing room. There was no better reminder of sport’s capacity to amaze and enthral, turning emotions from distraught to delight in a matter of minutes.
Following on, India were staring down the barrel at 232-4, when Laxman and Rahul Dravid seized the game by the scruff of the neck and turned it around in dramatic fashion. Their stand was unbroken for the entirety of the fourth day and, suddenly, Australia were on the back foot.
Set a target of 384 on the final day, the tourists set about saving a game they should have been winning. But Harbhajan, with ball in hand and a steely glare in his eyes, had other ideas.
Harbhajan took 6/73 in the second innings, removing Ponting for a duck and thus adding an intriguing subplot to subsequent India-Australia encounters. The visitors were never really in it against a fired-up Indian side on a high from the Laxman-Dravid stand the previous day. After 68.3 overs on the fifth day, Australia had lost a Test match for the first time in 18 matches.
They were dismissed for 212. and rather fittingly, Harbhajan took the final wicket of the game, trapping Glenn McGrath in front to cap what had been a staggering performance. India had levelled the series and the spinner from Punjab had breathed optimism back into his side.
It seems strangely overlooked at times that Harbhajan actually managed to surpass his tally in the Kolkata Test in the next match in Chennai. He took 15 wickets at Chepauk, sending the Australians crashing and burning once again to leave India with a modest 155 to chase for victory and claim the series.
It did not go smoothly. They were 135-7, and in real danger of coming up short. Harbhajan walked to the crease and the hero of the series promptly dragged his side over the line with just two wickets remaining. India finished 2-1 series victors, the first team in two years to inflict defeat on one of the greatest sides the game has ever seen.
For Harbhajan personally, the man-of-the-series award was the icing on the cake. He finished with 32 wickets from the three Tests – a record for the most wickets by a spinner in a series consisting of three games.
As a Punjabi kid growing up in the ‘80s, Harbhajan Singh’s love for rajma-chawal, gobhi paratha and jalebis wasn’t misplaced. Neither was his tendency of taking up new hobbies every day. The state of Punjab has produced a significant proportion of India’s sporting figures, unsurprising considering how children from the region take up a variety of sports during their formative years.
True to his Punjabi lineage, a young Harbhajan was equally fascinated with judo, karate and kabaddi as he was with cricket. And if you listen to his mother, he was good at all of them too. But what was kabaddi or judo’s loss was certainly cricket’s gain.
A FATHER’S DREAM
Harbhajan’s passion for the game stems from the fact that he lives his father’s dream every time he walks on to the pitch. As an owner of a ball bearing and valve factory, the easy route for Sardar Sardev Singh would have been to groom his son into looking after his business. Instead, he set his son a lofty target – of representing his country as a cricketer.
Not only Daulatpuri, but the whole of Jalandhar, was jubilant when an 18-year-old Harbhajan made his debut in the longest form of the game in 1998. After his heroics in the much eulogized 2001 Kolkata Test against Australia, the Prime Minister himself addressed a congratulatory message to the young spinner.
Harbhajan’s notorious temper, emotion and enthusiasm are all part and parcel of his cricketing persona. They underline his obsession for success, his determination to excel and his keenness to be involved at every juncture of a game. Here was another Indian youngster who played cricket with blood, sweat and tears.
A CAPTAIN’S PLAYER
The image of Harbhajan sticking out his tongue and running around with his arms stretched wide like the wings of a plane is as iconic as Sourav Ganguly’s shirt-waiving scenes at Lord’s. Indeed, both these cricketers played the sport in similar, stirring fashion and shared an excellent relationship as a result.
Ganguly had always had the spinner’s back – be it during the Zimbabwe series in 2002 or publicly calling for his inclusion in the squad in 2001 after Harbhajan had been sidelined on disciplinary grounds. In return, Harbhajan’s faith in his captain and respect for ‘Dada’ as a mentor, guide and friend have struck several chords through the years.
He was among the first few who sided with Ganguly after the captain’s fallout with coach Greg Chappell. The impact that Ganguly has had on Harbhajan’s life and career is evident every time the latter shares his fond recollections about their playing days together.
Being honest and outspoken has had its fair share of drawbacks too.
Harbhajan has had his fair share, including flouting New Zealand quarantine laws and being fined $200 for arriving at Auckland airport with dirty shoes.
Never has he been shy of on-field altercations either. His war of words against arch nemesis Ricky Ponting is legendary while his alleged racist comments aimed at Andrew Symonds during the volatile Sydney Test in 2008 and his slapping of Sreesanth in Indian Premier League are ugly blotches on his career.
THE CHILD IN ‘BHAJJI’
Letting his passion govern his cricket has been one of the key aspects of Harbhajan’s career and the expressive Punjabi’s wildness brought a different dimension to cricket. A dynamic personality, Harbhajan was quite a character on the field, whether laughing, crying or running around with childlike glee.
He knew how to have fun, and he ensured that he had enough of it. The knowledge that he would be toeing the line and may run the risk of hurting religious sentiments did not stop him from performing ‘Raavan-Sita’ dance on a show alongside television actress Mona Singh.
He has acted in as many as three films, two of them being special appearances. He has also recorded a song on the album, Meri Maa. Yet, to his nearest and dearest, Harbhajan remains the beloved Sonu they have known all these years.
His friends and family vouch for the fact that Harbhajan knows the secret of deriving pleasure from the little things in life. He loves Punjabi songs, follows pop singer Jasbir Jassi and when he is at home “he must have parathas for breakfast”.
From being someone who once had to contemplate quitting cricket and taking up truck-driving in the United States in order to financially support his mother and unmarried sisters, Singh’s rise has been like a fairy tale. It is little wonder then that he remains as grounded and humble at 36 as he once was as a fun-loving teenager.