GAME PLAN: Cricket’s quality losing out to quantity

Jaideep Ghosh

Mumbai: Royal Challengers Bangalore's Sarfaraz Khan in action during the IPL match against Mumbai Indians in Mumbai on Wednesday, April 20, 2016.  Photo: PTI

Mumbai: Royal Challengers Bangalore’s Sarfaraz Khan in action during the IPL match against Mumbai Indians in Mumbai on Wednesday, April 20, 2016.
Photo: PTI

The best thing about the Indian Premier League is that you can go away for a week or more, and then return to find that nothing much has changed.

You have some teams winning more than the others, something that changes as the months pass. You also see some sides which have loaded themselves with just batsmen, like Royal Challengers Bangalore, losing every time they defend, even when defending large scores.

You see the Gujarat side, which is unstoppable right now, and are pretty sure that their luck will run out before the tournament is over.

You see the battle between drought and water, which has now expanded from Maharashtra to Rajasthan.

Amidst all this, you look at the likes of young Sarfaraz Khan, and are amazed and alarmed at the same time.

The youngster, who played his entire cricket in Mumbai before moving to Uttar Pradesh, has all the signs of being a pre-programmed microchip, set to play 20-20 cricket.

Let’s begin with the match with Sunrisers Hyderabad, played on April 12.

The kid (there’s no other way to describe him) played exactly ten balls to score 35 not out, as RCB tallied 227 runs. This knock included five boundaries and two sixes.

So essentially, Sarfaraz scored 32 of his 35 runs off just seven balls.

Of the boundaries and sixes, at least two were ramp shots (which is an angled bat, used like a ramp, to play the ball over the wicketkeeper to hit the fence at third-man or fine-leg)

Great entertainment, I am sure. But given that our Sarfaraz is the future of how cricket is to be played, one should be a little worried.

Now, it would be fair to assume that those in the thick of things and looking after the future of cricket in India (specifically as a Test side) would be taking notes about who is a potential asset.

Sarfaraz definitely is one of these assets, though he himself couldn’t be bothered right now. He wants to play T20 and has the game tailor-made for that.

So should we discount him as a Test potential? After all, he barely seems to be able to meet the ball with a straight bat – his forte is the horizontal, the angled, or the ramp.

Mumbai: Royal Challengers Bangalore's K L Rahul in action during the IPL match against Mumbai Indians in Mumbai on Wednesday, April 20, 2016. Photo: PTI

Mumbai: Royal Challengers Bangalore’s K L Rahul in action during the IPL match against Mumbai Indians in Mumbai on Wednesday, April 20, 2016.
Photo: PTI

Young Sarfaraz is just one example. Let’s look at K.L. Rahul, the young Karnataka hopeful who came into the Indian team as the next great opening hope.

He went to Australia and scored a century in his second Test. Thereafter, he was relegated to the job of ‘reserve’ opener.

Rahul obviously didn’t think much of the ‘reserve’ tag.

So he remodelled his hairdo and his batting, to fit the jazzy T20 style, and we can safely assume that we have lost him to the pizzazz that is the IPL.

It showed too, the way he batted and self-destructed against Mumbai Indians, in spite of scoring 23 off 14. It was ugly.

Rahul and Sarfaraz are the two ends of the same spectrum. On one hand, you have this youngster, moulded in the culture of Bangalore cricket and Rahul Dravid, to be correct and technically sound to make it to the Test team, only to lose it all and become another product of the insane mill that produces IPL clones.

Then there is Sarfaraz, whose mentors and well-wishers obviously think that instant success is the only success. Take it while it lasts – never mind if you actually represent India or not.

Gone are the kharoos lessons of the Mumbai maidan, where you supposedly prize your wicket and do not give up. Instead, you have the licence to go and “express yourself” (Cricket India’s new mantra) with some shots that set your teeth grinding.

Sure, this is all old school thinking – play it straight, don’t play across the line – the kind of stuff that draws derision, not just from the young cricketers but also from their seniors and even coaches, the gurus who are supposed to ensure propriety.

The long-term results do not really count for much. Too bad is Rahul is lost to the white flannels, or if Sarfaraz never dons them (which is a strong possibility). They have found their calling in quantity rather than quality.

Neither of them is a Virat Kohli, nor ever will be. They won’t be able to adapt to all formats seamlessly like Kohli does. If you actually take a look at those who excel in Test cricket and those who don’t, you’ll find very few Kohlis anyway.

So I guess it is better not to get too worried. After all, those who don’t aim for the highest echelons really don’t deserve to be there. Be happy with what you have – wonder at Sarfaraz or regret Rahul but don’t get too affected.

Then cut to Test cricket and admire Kohli. Now that’s champagne stuff.