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Virat Kohli Told My Fitness Was Not Letting Me Get to Next Level: Sarfaraz Khan

Young sensation Sarfaraz Khan has been on the domestic circuit for almost five years now, but till now hasn’t been able to do justice to his talent. Till recently he wasn’t a regular in his state side too. It was then he shifted base to Uttar Pradesh, where he didn’t have a very successful stint either. But this season has been special for the 22-year-old, where he has managed to not only make a comeback to the Mumbai squad, but also scored a triple ton for them.

Virat Kohli Told My Fitness Was Not Letting Me Get to Next Level: Sarfaraz Khan

Young sensation Sarfaraz Khan has been on the domestic circuit for almost five years now, but till now hasn’t been able to do justice to his talent. Till recently he wasn’t a regular in his state side too. It was then he shifted base to Uttar Pradesh, where he didn’t have a very successful stint either. But this season has been special for the 22-year-old, where he has managed to not only make a comeback to the Mumbai squad, but also scored a triple ton for them.

A much-fitter Sarfaraz spoke to ESPNcricinfo about coming back to the team, reinventing himself, and also the triple hundred against UP.

“It's a proud feeling to return and also join Mumbai's triple-century club, alongside great players like Sachin Tendulkar, Sunil Gavaskar, Wasim Jaffer and Rohit Sharma. I'm a little relieved, more than delighted, because my season started late. I didn't get opportunities in the Vijay Hazare Trophy and very few chances at the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy. There was this fear in my mind that half the season had finished and I hadn't yet made any kind of impact. So this triple century came at the right time,” Sarfaraz said.

To make a switch back to Mumbai, the youngster had to sit out of the entire domestic season last year because of the cooling off period. It was enough for him to get self-doubts about his ability as a player.

“The last two years have been very frustrating. There were a lot of question marks over me. I was asking questions of myself. I won't lie. Everyone thought I was only a white-ball player. Deep down, I knew I was a good enough red-ball player too, but I didn't have too many opportunities to prove it. One season, I sat out in Uttar Pradesh. Then I had to serve out a cooling-off period in Mumbai, so I used the time to work on my game.

“I used to play on seaming wickets, my father kept hurling balls at me and I was only focused on leaving the ball. Earlier, I used to instinctively play the upper cut to short balls even if there was third man. It became a habit. But I tried cutting out all these aspects to discipline my game. In the game against Uttar Pradesh, there were times when they kept bowling short balls. The old me would've tried to ramp the ball. Here, I kept ducking under it because the situation demanded.”

The biggest low in Sarfaraz’s career, could perhaps be his move to play for UP, where unfortunately he did not get enough chances to play. While he terms this decision as his father’s, it was the youngster’s decision to come back and play for his home side.

“Leaving Mumbai was a bad decision. It wasn't mine, but my father's. At that age, you aren't matured enough to think of circumstances or look at things in a different way. Dad felt that was the best way forward for me. There's no point looking back at why I made the move. But when I moved, I kept having this thought: 'will I ever play for Mumbai again?' Because I had played all age-group cricket here, represented India at the Under-19 World Cup in 2014 because of my performances for Mumbai. But I felt like an outsider, I didn't get chances.

“Quitting Uttar Pradesh and coming back was entirely my call. Of course we discussed the pros and cons, I decided if I had to serve out some time, I better do it now than later. Some people said, 'maybe it's not the right call, because if you so wanted to come back, you would've never left in the first place'. I'm glad I took the call. It hasn't been easy even after coming back, but I'm enjoying the feeling again of playing for Mumbai. That crest and cap, I had safely kept it away in a store room when I left for Uttar Pradesh. It was a proud feeling to wear it once again the moment I was eligible to play again.

That’s not it. He was dropped from the RCB in 2016, for lack of fitness. In fact skipper Virat Kohli talked to him about this aspect, that Sarfaraz needed to work upon.

“I was dropped at Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) in 2016 because of my fitness. Virat Kohli told me straightaway while there were no doubts over my skills, my fitness was not letting me get to the next level. He was very honest with me about where I was. I really had no idea about fitness until I came in to the Under-19 level. I was very low, my dad was also low. But I was still retained by RCB in 2018. At that time, I felt like being in the same team as Virat bhai and AB de Villiers was my life's biggest achievement. I didn't realise there was so much more to do.”

Now that the bad phase of his career is behind him, Sarfaraz wants to keep fit and keep scoring runs, without putting pressure on himself.

“When you look for something and when it doesn't happen, you feel disappointed. I just want to work hard, train, keep fit and score runs whenever the opportunities come. I've stopped overthinking or having high expectations. I want to make up for lost time and do well wherever a chance comes.”



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