Pakistan have a decent history of having produced some good wicket-keeper batsmen. If we take a look at last 25 years or so, the names of Moin Khan, Rashid Latif and Kamran Akmal stand out. For close to a decade-and-a-half, there was an intense rivalry between Moin and Latif as the two of them kept competing with each other for the wicket-keeper’s spot. Once they were gone, senior Akmal was drafted in and he did a fairly decent job. But once both his wicket-keeping as well as batting form waned, he was replaced by his brothers Adnan and Umar Akmal for a brief period; an experiment which clearly did not work. FULL CRICKET SCORECARD: Pakistan vs Sri Lanka, Asia Cup T20 2016, Match 10 at Dhaka.
Though not specialists, these players would make useful contributions whenever the team required of them. But Pakistan still lacked a wicket-keeper who could play solely as a batsman in the team. Around the same time, a trend of sorts was observed with the other major teams as they all had wicket-keepers who were very good — on some occasions, best — batsmen of their sides. Adam Gilchrist for Australia, Kumar Sangakkara for Sri Lanka, MS Dhoni for India, AB de Villiers for South Africa and Brendon McCullum for New Zealand played the said role to perfection. Pakistan’s search to have a specialist keeper batsman ended a couple of years ago. FULL BLOG: Pakistan vs Sri Lanka, Asia Cup T20 2016, Match 10 at Dhaka.
Sarfraz Ahmed, who has been around since 2007 when he made his debut against India in an ODI at Jaipur, took almost five years to seal a permanent spot in the playing XI and seven to mark his arrival. It was in August 2014, that he finally came of age by scoring 55 and 52 not out against Sri Lanka in Galle Test. In the very next Test, he notched his maiden Test hundred (103) and added another fifty in the second innings. This was his first statement in international cricket. His next Test against Australia in Dubai again saw him score a hundred (109). A couple of Tests later, he got his third Test hundred. This time the opposition was New Zealand, which showed he had the ability to score against any opposition at the highest level.
In the ICC World Cup 2015 that followed, he was instrumental in changing his team’s dwindling fortunes. His team, going through a rough phase where its openers were struggling in the conditions Down Under, asked Sarfraz to open the innings and he answered his captain’s SOS call with a composed 49-ball 49 against South Africa, which eventually proved crucial in team’s 29-run win. In the next match, his 101 not out helped his team chase down 239 against a spirited Ireland side. Though Pakistan’s campaign ended in the quarter-final, Sarfraz continued to score crucial runs for his side. FULL MATCH REPORT: Pakistan vs Sri Lanka, Asia Cup T20 2016, Match 10 at Dhaka.
His impact on the Pakistan team can be understood by the statistics as well. Since August 2014, he averages over 45 cumulatively from 60 games across all formats of the game. He has registered four hundreds and many important half-centuries in this period, which saw him make great strides in international cricket. His rapid rise in the Pakistani cricket circles ensured he was rewarded with the captaincy of one of the five franchises for the inaugural edition of Pakistan Super League (PSL) —Quetta Gladiators. He led the side that had volatile characters like Kevin Pietersen and Ahmed Shehzad with flair and took them to the final, where they lost to Misbah-ul-Haq’s Islamabad United.
In the ongoing Asia Cup, Sarfraz was the highest scorer for his team in two of the three matches he batted in. Against Bangladesh, his unbeaten 42-ball 58 took his team to a respectable total while against Sri Lanka, his 27-ball 38 laid the foundation of the consolation win. In him, Pakistan now have a solid dependable batsman who is extremely skillful behind the stumps too. He can play in any condition, any match situation, any batting position and he has proved that in style. Pakistan may have crashed out of the tournament, but they can be proud of Sarfraz, and look up to him to continue to deliver in future matches as well.
(A self-confessed cricket freak, Chinmay Jawalekar is a senior writer with CricLife and CricketCountry. When not writing or following cricket, he loves to read, eat and sleep. He can be followed here @CricfreakTweets)