Wicketkeeper-batsman has played some unforgettable knocks that are forever etched in the memories of Pakistan cricket fans
Former Pakistan captain Sarfaraz Ahmed is currently out of the national side from all three formats. However, his contribution in some of Pakistan’s most memorable wins in recent cricket history cannot be forgotten.
From winning the 2017 Champions Trophy to leading the Test team, post the retirements of Misbahul Haq and Younis Khan, Sarfaraz played some unforgettable knocks that are forever etched in the memories of Pakistan cricket fans.
46 not out against Bangladesh, Dhaka, 2012 Asia Cup final
Despite making his international debut in 2007, Sarfaraz had not been able to convince the Pakistan selectors of his batting prowess. It is for this reason that then newly-appointed Chief Selector, Iqbal Qasim, termed 2012 Asia Cup as Sarfraz's last chance to seal his place in the Pakistan team.
While batting first against Bangladesh, Pakistan had a rocky start to their innings and kept losing wickets at regular intervals. Sarfaraz walked in at number eight to join Shahid Afridi, when Pakistan were reeling at 133-6.
Initially, Sarfaraz decided to play the supporting role while Afridi continued with his cameo innings. However, after Afridi’s departure with only 178 runs on the board in 41.3 overs, Sarfaraz took control of the innings and a particular liking to Bangladesh’s lanky pacer, Shahadat Hossain.
After dispatching Shahadat for two boundaries in the next over after Afridi’s dismissal, the wicketkeeper-batsman along with Aizaz Cheema, smashed the right-arm pacer for 19 runs in the last over, taking Pakistan to a competitive total of 236/9.
The 46-run unbeaten knock from 52 deliveries by Sarfaraz proved to be the difference between the two sides as Pakistan secured a two-run victory in the last-over thriller, to claim their second Asia Cup title.
48 against Sri Lanka, Sharjah, January 2014
Sarfaraz played a brief yet crucial role against Sri Lanka, when they chased down 302 runs in just 57.3 overs to level the Test series against the Islanders.
With Pakistan needing 195 in 35 overs at the start of the final session, Misbah promoted Sarfaraz to number five just before tea break, inorder to provide impetus to the innings.
The wicketkeeper-batsman didn’t take much time before upping the ante as he took on Sri Lanka spinner Rangana Herath, who was bowling a negative line and pitched most of his deliveries wide outside leg stump. Sarfaraz negated Herath’s tactics by taking guard outside leg-stump and continued hitting the left-arm spinner through covers to beat a packed leg-side field.
Sarfaraz departed after scoring a vital 48-run knock from 46 deliveries, but not before providing the acceleration the Pakistan innings needed to complete the mammoth chase amid dimming lights and annoyed Sri Lankan players, who insisted for the play to be called off.
78 not out against Sri Lanka, Pallekele, July 2015
The Pallekele Test between Pakistan and Sri Lanka in 2015 is often remembered for Younis Khan’s herculean 171-run unbeaten knock , which helped the Men in Green chase a gargantuan 377-run target (their highest successful chase) and register a series win in Sri Lanka after nine years.
However, many have forgotten Sarfaraz Ahmed’s contribution in the first innings, without which the task would have been way tougher.
Pakistan was in all sorts of trouble at 91-4 when Sarfaraz walked in ahead of Misbahul Haq, who had moved down the order due to a groin strain. Earlier in the series, Sarfaraz had rescued Pakistan from a similar situation in the first Test at Galle, where his blistering match-winning innings of 96 earned him the player of the match award.
Sarfaraz was on the counter-attack from the get go. However, Sri Lankan bowlers soon had their tails up as Pakistan were reduced to 151-6 after losing Azhar Ali and Misbah. The Karachi-born wicketkeeper needed to be street smart, with the Men in Green still trailing Sri Lanka’s first innings score by 127 runs.
Sarfaraz stepped up and kept the scoreboard ticking with his attacking shots, through the off-side and sharp running between the wickets, while shepherding the tail. He made 63.75 % of Pakistan’s last 80 runs. The Men in Green, who looked unlikely to reach 175, ultimately got to 215 with Sarfaraz top-scoring with an unbeaten 78 runs.
It was a great revival act, which came under pressure in a series decider of an away Test series.
61 not out against Sri Lanka, Cardiff, 2017 ICC Champions Trophy
The Pakistan captain exhibited his leadership qualities against Sri Lanka after his side astonishingly collapsed from 74-0 to 162-7, in their chase of 237 runs.
While the wickets kept falling at the other end, Sarfraz kept calm and steadied the ship with his 61-run unbeaten knock from 79 balls. As fortune favours the brave, the wicketkeeper-batsman took few risks and found some luck with the Sri Lankan fielding disintegrating.
He was dropped twice on 38 and 40 by Thisara Perera and substitute fielder Seekkuge Prasanna, respectively, much to the anguish of the pacer Lasith Malinga.
The Men in Green still needed 75 runs from 121 balls, when Sarfaraz found an able ally in Mohammad Amir, who provided excellent support with his 28 runs from 43 balls. The duo steered Pakistan home in the 45th over and sealed the semi-final spot in the 2017 Champions Trophy.
94 against Australia, Abu Dhabi, October 2018
There was a sharp decline in the batting form of Sarfaraz since taking over the Test reigns, as he was averaging 19.30 in 10 innings with only one fifty under his belt. On top of it, there were questions marks being raised over his captaincy after a dismal showing in the Asia Cup, just prior to the home series against Australia. By his own admission, he was not only feeling pressure on the field, but off it as well.
After Usman Khawaja’s heroic rescue act in Dubai, the series moved to Abu Dhabi for the decider and Pakistan had crumbled to 57-5, after opting to bat first on the ground where the average first-innings score over the last ten Tests was 402.
Sarfaraz needed to forget all the voices from outside and bat with the same confidence, which helped him cement his place in the national team during the 2014/15 season.
The wicketkeeper-batsman finally started showing belief in his abilities after lunch, as he moved around the crease, took on Nathan Lyon and dispatched him over midwicket. He made full use of his hand-eye coordination as he kept piercing the gaps on regular occasions and rotated the strike on a consistent basis.
Along with the Fakhar Zaman, who was making his Test debut, Sarfaraz stitched a 147-run partnership to help Pakistan score a respectable 282, which turned out to be enough to register a series victory over Australia.
Honourable mention: 49 vs South Africa, Auckland, 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup.