Sachin Baby had to make way for the younger Sarfaraz Khan (above) in the final © AFP
Sachin Baby had to make way for the younger Sarfaraz Khan (above) in the final © AFP

It was the fifth over. Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB), chasing 159 to win the Qualifier 1 of Indian Premier League (IPL) 2016, found themselves reeling at 28 for 4. Shane Watson was back in the pavilion and it seemed AB de Villiers would run out of partners. Sachin Baby joined de Villiers in the middle. The need of the hour was to give strike to de Villiers, who had by then already struck a six and was looking in comfort. The next over Baby played a loose shot, an uppish drive off Dhawal Kulkarni to the man at cover. RCB stuttered to 29 for 5. Virat Kohli, AB de Villiers, Sarfaraz Khan: Three different styles, each one compelling

Riding on a de Villiers classic and Iqbal Abdullah’s sensible batsmanship, RCB made it to the final. However, the writing was on the wall: Baby had to make way for the younger Sarfaraz Khan in the final. No offence to Baby, but Sarfaraz should not have been dropped in first place. Only 18, he possesses extraordinary skills. He was India’s best batsman in the Under-19 World Cup earlier this year. Over years we have seen that he can adapt very well and bat in several gears.

In RCB’s opening encounter against Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) this season at Bengaluru, Sarfaraz had walked out to bat in the 18th over. He played four balls from Bhuvneshwar Kumar and scored 22 runs, and another 12 from Mustafizur Rahman’s last four. His 10-ball 35 took RCB to 227, a game they eventually won by 45 runs. Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers: Cricket’s own Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer

Sarfaraz’s overall IPL strike rate is 173.5. This season it almost touched 213. Despite his good shows, he made way for Baby because skipper Virat Kohli reckoned the latter to be a better fielder (not that Sarfaraz can be termed poor). Baby was neither as adventurous nor spectacular as Sarfaraz, but managed to chip in with some handy supporting roles but the question arises, does age, overall experience and better fielding count over form and impact?

No wonder that Sarfaraz began trending on Twitter when RCB batsmen struggled against SRH pacers during the end stages of the grand finale. Mustafizur bowled the penultimate over, while Bhuvneshwar, who was taken to cleaners by Sarfaraz in their first meet-up this year at the same venue, bowled the final over. Coincidentally, Baby ended up playing 10 balls and scored 18 with a boundary and a six. It was disheartening to see the 27-year-old Kerala batsman weep towards the end stages of the game, and would be unfair to lay the blame on him as both SRH bowlers have been phenomenal this season; but a circle surely got completed.

The final was dubbed as the clash between the best bowling side and the best batting side of the tournament. To live up to its reputation, the David Warner-led SRH sweated over Mustafizur’s fitness ahead of final and rushed him to the side, meanwhile RCB lost an opportunity to further strengthen their batting brigade by adding Sarfaraz.

We do not know if Kohli’s decision to keep Sarfaraz in the bench in the IPL final was purely cricketing or getting the balance right or more of justifying himself and his past selection, but it surely did cost RCB in a big way.

(Suvajit Mustafi consumes cricket for lunch, fiction for dinner and munches numerous other snacks throughout the day. Yes, a jack of several trades, all Suvajit dreamt of was being India’s World Cup winning skipper but ended up being a sports writer, author, screenwriter, director, copywriter, graphic designer, sports marketer , strategist, entrepreneur,  philosopher and traveller. Donning so many hats, it’s cricket which gives him the ultimate high and where he finds solace. He can be followed at @RibsGully and rivu7)