KARACHI: Sarfraz Ahmed’s heart was pounding as he looked to survive the three deliveries before lunch. For someone playing his 50th Test match, having captained Pakistan in quite a few matches, this was odd. Odd was also the fact that Sarfraz was playing his first Test in nearly four years. And that he was making his maiden appearance in the whites for Pakistan on his home turf was even more astounding.
In came New Zealand’s Ish Sodhi with his leg-spin. Sarfraz whipped one towards mid-wicket for no run, beautifully drove another through the offside and then came the forward defensive. Survival achieved.
“Look, if you ask about how I was feeling when I played the first three deliveries and if someone had checked my heartbeat at that time then probably the meter would have exploded,” said the wicket-keeper batter in a press conference following the close of the first day’s play of the opening Test against the BlackCaps on Monday.
Sarfraz then revealed why and how, at 35, a player would get so nervous.
“My heart was beating so fast and it was a similar feeling to that of making your debut as I was playing a Test match after a very long time and the match too was in crunch position at that moment.”
Thankfully, the former Pakistan skipper did not have to wait too much before going into the dressing room at lunch. He said he was brought back to a normal state of mind by his team-mates during the break
“When we walked into the pavilion for the lunch break, boys who have played alongside me, noticed my nervousness and were trying to calm me down.”
And it was evident that his nerves had settled when he played his signature sweep shot to take his second boundary off left-arm spinner Ajaz Patel.
With his simple, basic batting style, the right-hander pulled half-trackers, guided the ball with intricate wrist work and drove spinners off the bounce with ease.
He saw his captain Babar — once his subordinate — reach his century. Babar, in turn, celebrated Sarfraz’s 19th Test fifty.
The partnership between the current and ex Pakistan skippers was worth 196 runs and it brought the hosts back into the match after they were reeling at 110-4 at one point.
“.. Babar gave me a lot of confidence as a senior player and carried me with great determination as I also needed confidence at that time.”
It would have been a fitting return for Sarfraz had he scored a hundred, a milestone he fell just 14 runs short of. But for him, gratitude for what he managed to achieve meant more than ruing what he missed out on.
“I was sad but then I thought it would have been worse had I got out for a duck and I’m grateful,” Sarfraz said of his dismissal.
The wicket-keeper was picked after a chaotic week in Pakistan cricket, that saw Najam Sethi replacing Ramiz Raja as the country’s cricket board chief and the appointment of former Pakistan captain Shahid Afridi as the interim chief selector.
Afridi did not take too much time to exercise his powers as he added three new players to the Pakistan squad and is said to have influenced Babar to pick Sarfraz over mainstay wicket-keeper Mohammad Rizwan.
For Sarfraz, four years on the sidelines were all about playing cricket wherever he got the chance to, before things naturally fall into place.
“I used to ponder if I would ever play my 50th Test,” he said. “When I got to know yesterday that I was going to play, it got me really excited.
“I had tried to focus on playing as much cricket as I could while being out of the side and I think I’ve finally been rewarded for my patience.”
Published in Dawn, December 27th, 2022