You could see the self-assurance in his strut as Sarfaraz Khan went after the English spinners on the first day of the third Test in Rajkot. He exuded an air of belonging in the way he selected and executed his shots.

At the end of Day 1, India ended with a score of 326/5. But it was that talented batter from Mumbai who had laid down an impressive marker, despite his innings being cut-short in the cruellest manner.

Khan’s debut for the Indian cricket team had been in the waiting for a while. He had done the hard yards. He had gone through the grind. He had piled on the runs with impressive performances in First Class cricket that had social media bringing up his name after every senior team selection meeting.

He was banging on the door, but somehow it would never open for him. Till Thursday, when the 26-year-old from Mumbai earned his first Test cap.

As much as his performance in Rajkot reflected his command on the pitch due to his impressive Ranji Trophy record – he boasts an impressive average of 69 in 45 matches – it was also a reminder that if not for the consecutive injuries and unavailability of players that essentially depleted the Indian middle order, he would still be waiting in the wings.

The ongoing series saw India make a potentially decisive transition from seniors Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane. Rishabh Pant is yet to return to international cricket. Shubman Gill has to make the opportunity count. KS Bharat, too, is finding his footing. Virat Kohli is unavailable for selection. Suryakumar Yadav, KL Rahul and most recently, Shreyas Iyer are all recovering after injuries. Ishan Kishan, who was in the mix until recently, is on a break.

Also read: England tour of India: Rohit Sharma, Ravindra Jadeja’s tons rescue hosts on Day one of Rajkot

This unavailability is what finally prompted the Indian management to give Khan a shot.

A long wait ends

As Khan was handed his India cap by Anil Kumble, his wife Romana Zahoor and father Naushad Khan watched on with tears in their eyes. Following congratulations from the teammates, Khan ran to his family to hug them and hand over the cap to them and allow them to soak in the reality of their biggest dreams.

With the series level at 1-1 and England posing a challenge with their unique style of play, India needed some firepower. And on his debut, Khan provided them with exactly that.

Mark Wood had removed Yashasvi Jaiswal and Shubman Gill early and Tom Hartley dismissed Rajat Patidar to reduce India to 33/3 in 8.5 overs.

With the pressure on the India middle order to help Rohit Sharma, Ravindra Jadeja was promoted up the order to steady the ship. The pair did just that as they stitched a mammoth 204-run partnership put India in good stead.

But what also stood out was the reassurance Khan brought along with him. It did not start off as easily because England, as you would expect, had done their homework on the rookie. His game against the short-ball had been a subject of discussion and so Wood came at him heavily with the short stuff. He was made to duck and dodge but as spin came on, so did Khan’s real game.

England captain Ben Stokes changed the field settings frequently but each time he brought the field up, Khan comfortably took the aerial route to pile on the agony. He stitched a 77-run partnership with Jadeja who was inching towards a century himself.

Jadeja went into a shell and Khan took one the role aggressor in the partnership. The duo scored 77 runs for the fifth wicket with 62 of those runs coming from Khan’s bat.

He had raced to his fifty in 48 balls, which was the second-fastest Test fifty on debut for India, level with Hardik Pandya. It was no surprise that in his first innings as a Test cricketer, he created a record. He had shown that promise a long time ago.

At 12, he had broken the record for the highest score in the Harris Shield inter-school tournament slamming 439, for Rizvi Springfield.

“Wait for the night to pass”

In the 2019-20 Ranji Trophy season, Khan scored 928 runs at a whopping average of 154.66. He followed it up with another spectacular season, scoring 982 runs at an average of 122.75 in 2021-22. In 2022-23, he finished with 556 runs at an average of 92.66, including three hundreds.

The India call-up, however, still eluded him.

His grind through the years and the fulfilment of his dream with the India cap felt like the completion of a circle. But it was a long wait that could have spiralled into something sinister – with that feeling of dejection coming every time the selection committee chose to overlook his efforts.

But his father and coach, a former Ranji cricketer himself, Naushad spoke about the yearning for the dream the father-son duo dreamt together and the reward of patience.

“Raat ko waqt do guzarne ke liye, suraj apne hi samay pe niklega,” said senior Khan, in a video posted by BCCI, on X. “Give the night some time to pass, the sun will rise on its time regardless.”

As Khan was bringing up his half-century, it looked like he was also racing with Jadeja to bring up that hundred.

The right-handed batter demonstrated deft movement against spin, crease awareness, and had the soft hands to pick singles without taking a risk.

However, his running between the wickets was looking iffy and with Jadeja slowing down, what could have been an even remarkable debut was cut short. Jadeja wanted to get to the milestone and Khan seemed happy to help him get there.

In the 82nd over, as Jadeja drove James Anderson to mid-on, he took a couple of steps before turning the single down. Khan had already left the non-striker’s end and had no chance of getting back once Wood took aim and hit the single stump on view.

Jadeja looked remorseful and Khan was distraught. But in the dressing room, the Indian captain Sharma was caught in a visual one hadn’t seen him in before but many in the cricket world probably understand.

Sharma watched on, flung his cap in frustration and uttered some expletives. A fellow Mumbaikar, aware of the Khan’s struggle at the Mumbai maidans for years, Sharma made his emotions visible. It was a captain who wanted to see the perfect story too.

But as the Khans have accepted, it happens when it is meant to. As India seek stability in the middle order, Khan’s confidence and game against spin, has presented a promising glimpse.