Sarfraz Khan walked in with his Mumbai teammate Shreyas Iyer for the first net session ahead of the 2nd India vs England Test at the Dr YS Rajasekhara Reddy ACA-VDCA Cricket Stadium. By that time, Rajat Patidar was already good 15 minutes into his batting session. Patidar was named replacement for Virat Kohli when the former India skipper opted out of the first two Tests owing to personal reasons.
And Patidar rightly took the nets ahead of Sarfaraz, but not before Rohit Sharma, Shubman Gill and Yashaswi Jaiswal have had their hits. The first one on the park on the day was, surprisingly, Kuldeep Yadav and it did not take him to attempt a reverse sweep off the local net bowler; and from afar you could have mistaken him for Sarfaraz for a fleeting moment. But when Sarfaraz came on to bat no one around the nets could miss the sturdy and strong pocket powerhouse.
Sarfaraz, of course, had got his long-awaited maiden India call-up after KL Rahul was ruled out of the second Test owing to a right quadriceps pain, he experienced during the 1st Test in Hyderabad. The Patidar vs Sarfaraz has happened before, when Kohli’s replacement was to be named. Patidar got the nod then, probably owing to the sense of stability that Patidar provides or could provide.
Sweep the Order of the Day
Despite the array of shots Patidar possess and how well he plays them, it did not take Patidar a long time to start sweeping the spinners. Bowling in tandem with the local spinners was Mohammad Siraj, who was bowling full tilt, pushing Patidar back and the MP Player looked rock solid then. However, it was his attempts at sweep that left a bit to be desired. Ravichandran Ashwin shuffled between the nets and whenever Ashwin looped one to Patidar, he went for the sweep shots and the results were mixed. He missed a few, adjusted last moment and pulled away at the last moment when he realised, he would not be able to reach the pitch of the delivery. But anything on the up, Patidar held his shape well to time is sweetly, and anything marginally short, he rocked back with ease to guide to third man or the general behind square region.
Sarfaraz, on the other hand, was brute force. Each of the shots that he connected resonated throughout the net area, which is outside the main stadium complex. The healthy mix of security from the rather unimaginatively named firm – Vizag Bouncers – and police personnel along with a handful of media folks turned their head whenever Sarfaraz took strike. He was brutal to anything pitched up and his sweep shots were not just timed but were hammered. A Patidar sweep shot, for instance, felt like the sickle coming down skimming the top of the delivery, while Sarfaraz’s was like a scythe coming down heavy to slice the delivery in half.
While Patidar took turns to face Ashwin, Siraj and later Jaiswal with his leg-break; Sarfaraz had the company of Mukesh Kumar and Kuldeep Yadav. And Yadav himself in contention for a spot in the playing XI did his best to stop Sarfaraz from sweeping and this duel was a must-watch. Often Sarfaraz lost his shape, undone by the various paces and lengths from the Yadav, but the very next delivery the 26-year-old Mumbai batter would explode with power and smother the delivery.
However, the most intriguing and interesting part of the Patidar vs Sarfaraz tussle was when Rohit – who had finished his session with the team the two upstarts had started theirs – took Patidar aside before his net session and discussed a few things. Patidar, we can assume tried to implement was Rohit would have told. It was a brief conversation, that lasted probably 5-7 minutes.
But, with Sarfaraz, Rohit was even more animated, and the talk went long – a good 20 minutes and it was the skipper doing most of them and Sarafraz listening intently. After that long talk, Sarafraz padded up and sized up the bowlers.
There was a stark difference in the approaches of both the players even though the common factor between the two remained positive intent. There were very few defensive shots played and while Patidar, with his compact batting, looked far more assured and measured in the middle, the power of Sarfaraz lent to a more authority and bravado.
The question would be, will India go with the poise or exuberance to counter high-flying England and their ‘Bazball’ theory in the 2nd Test?
It will be a tough call, as Vikram Rathour would say at the press conference. “It will be a tough choice. What value they bring to the team, of course, is that they are super players. We have seen how well they have done in domestic cricket in the last few years. So this kind of wickets, I think can really add a lot of value to the team. If you must pick one, it’s of course going to be tough. But that’s a decision I think Rahul and Rohit Sharma will have to make in a day or so.”