Written by Sandeep Dwivedi | | Adelaide | March 17, 2015 11:56 am
While Sarfraz Ahmed was crawling through the 90s at Adelaide Oval against Ireland on Sunday, a senior clerk at Etawah’s Agricultural Engineering College was busy answering phone calls and distributing “sohan papdi”.
In Pakistan, they celebrated the country’s first World Cup century in eight years by talking about the daredevilry of the stand-in opener holding the Man of the Match trophy.
In India, over sweets and on a cellphone, Mehboob Hasan would narrate the childhood tales of his naughty nephew Sarfraz and applaud his maiden ODI hundred.
Despite the LoC divide, complex visa regulations and only a couple of face-to-face meetings over the years, the 50-year-old Mehboob and the 27-year-old Sarfraz have not grown apart.
On the morning after the Ireland game, the motormouth keeper was ready to pose for pictures when requested. “Achha kheenchna, India mein mere mamu rehte hein, dekh kar bahut khush honge (Take a good snap, my uncle stays in India, he will be very happy to see it),” he said.
Call “mamu” in western UP’s Etawah and tell him about the conversation with Sarfraz in the Adelaide hotel lobby and the line goes silent for a while. After a while you hear a sniff, another pause. Hasan gathers himself, talks about the World Cup, baring his range of emotions. Frustration, relief and elation has been the order.
At the start of the World Cup, like most Pakistan fans and even the neutrals, Hasan, in Etawah, couldn’t understand why the team’s only specialist wicket-keeper, Sarfraz, wasn’t being included in the playing XI. Hasan Skyped his sister in Karachi, Sarfraz’s mother Akila Banu, hoping to get an answer.
“She told me to pray for Sarfraz and asked me to visit Khwajasahab’s dargah in Ajmer,” he said. The doting uncle did that. He will revisit the shrine once again after the World Cup is over. “Mannat jo maangi hai, puri karni padegi (I will have to do it since I have asked for a blessing),” he said.
Last year, Hasan had been to Karachi and had met Sarfraz. That was after more than two decades, only the second time in their lives. The first time was when the four-year-old nephew was cradled across the border to attend his uncle’s wedding in Etawah.
Along with his son, daughter and wife, Hasan took the Delhi-Attari-Lahore route. “We went to the Gaddafi stadium where Sarfraz was playing a game. My other nephews were also there to receive us,” recalled Hasan. With pride he added, actually twice: “Fly karwaaya hum sabko Lahore se Karachi, Sarfraz ne (Sarfraz flew us over from Karachi to Lahore).”
Unlike him, Hasan’s mother (Sarfraz’s grandmother) has been a frequent flyer to Pakistan. She would carry news of her cricket-crazy grandchild to India. “She would say, Sarfraz would be at home swinging the bat all day. She was scared he would hit someone with it,” Hasan said.
Although Sarfraz grew up on the other side of the track, at Laalu Khet, a not-too-affluent area of Karachi, he didn’t have a deprived childhood. His grandfather was the chairman of the Education Board and father, Shakil Ahmed, ran a popular stationery shop called Shakeel & Sons in the main market.
But Sarfraz wasn’t going to be the son who would be seen selling books and pens. “My elder brother would take care of the shop. If not for him I would have never become a cricketer. I would be sitting in the shop. Everyone at home supported my cricket,” said Sarfraz, who has risen from the ranks in Pakistan.
From being a promising junior, to a PIA sports quota recruitment, an under-19 World Cup winning captain and now Pakistan’s senior team game changer, the gloveman has come a long way.
The wicketkeeper-cum-opener is now credited with the team’s revival this World Cup. After sitting out for four games, Sarfraz was included for the South Africa game where he scored 49 and held six catches. This was followed by the century against Ireland on Sunday, which took Pakistan to the quarterfinals.
Sarfraz, however, regrets that his father couldn’t watch him play for the Pakistan senior side. “He was unwell, he passed away before I made my debut. He did see the under-19 World Cup in 2006,” he said.
These are happy days at Sarfraz’s home in Karachi. “My sisters are giving interviews on news channels, I have told them that just be ready when we lose!” joked Sarfraz, whose meme of days when he wasn’t in the team has gone viral on the Internet.
The team’s star pacer Wahab Riaz pulls his leg. “Sarfraz dhoka nahi dega (Sarfraz won’t cheat you),” he said, quoting from the meme that’s based on the Aamir Khan-starrer PK.
The TV cameras haven’t yet reached Etawah but Hasan does have company while watching cricket. “Everybody here knows that Sarfraz is my nephew, so they keep calling,” he said.
Things are similar in a Lucknow engineering college hostel, where Sarfraz’s cousin and Hasan’s son Salman studies. Salman and Sarfraz are quite close, and as the cricketer said with relish, “We are on WhatsApp most times.” Salman would have loved to play in the backyard with his cousin but distances don’t allow that.
“Here in my hostel everyone knows he is my cousin, so many of them called me to congratulate me when he scored a hundred,” said Salman.
Before he hangs up, Hasan talks about the nephew who was so hard to handle as a child. “I would take him and my sister for shopping. This boy was barely five years old, he would jump and sit on the counter. Once we went to a thela (cart) to buy something, Sarfraz started eating before I could even ask of the cost,” he recalled.
Trust a “mamu” to say this: “Darta nahi tha kabhi kisi se (He was never scared of anyone).”