He is all of 18 but is already the cynosure of many eyes. His mates label him the naughtiest of the class but never fail to praise him enough. Despite being short and stockily-built, his audacity and panoramic range of shots amazed many. (Full IPL Coverage)In a sport like cricket, where early signs of talent and flair often fade with time and rarely have child prodigies gone on to replicate their success on the big stage, Sarfaraz Khan seems to be a lotus grown out of the mud.From the boundaries of Mumbai’s Azad Maidan, far from the city’s flashy and high-rise buildings, Sarfaraz has fast-tracked himself to modern-day razzmatazz. (Sarfaraz Khan is like my son, says Chris Gayle)The boldness, flamboyancy and unconventional approach he displays in his batting has made him stand out in the league of extraordinary gentlemen. It takes a lion-hearted effort to carve a niche in a batting line-up which consists of the likes of Chris Gayle, Virat Kohli, AB de Villiers and Shane Watson.However, unlike a typical Mumbai cricketer, groomed under the watchful eyes of renowned coaches at some of the best cricket clubs of the city, Sarfaraz’s story resembles the hardships of unrelenting struggles of a kid from humble background.He would play most of his cricket at the open-to-all Azad Maidan, where there is no ‘members only’ turf and one needs to just grab a spot and start playing the game.In a city like Mumbai where nothing comes cheap, cricket has its price too. Sarfaraz’s father, Naushad, would do odd jobs of selling track-suits just to see his asset play cricket. Naushad, a class 4 employee of the Western Railways, would pay to the opposition teams just to give Sarfaraz an opportunity to bat through the day. It was that fire in Naushad’s belly that would power Sarfaraz’s dreams through the defilements and sufferings of life.advertisementSarfaraz announced himself to the scene in 2009 when, aged 12, he scored an unbeaten 439 in an innings to break the record for the highest score in the Harris Shield inter-school tournament. Playing for the Rizvi Springfield school, Sarfaraz’s innings was studded with 56 fours and 12 sixes.Slowly and steadily Sarfaraz’s reputation grew in the city circles as a star in the making.An extraordinary season for the Mumbai under-19 team earned Sarfaraz a call-up for the India U-19 quadrangular series in 2013 where he smashed a match-winning 66-ball 101 against South Africa. (Playing for RCB great learning curve for Sarfaraz Khan)Then came a call-up for the 2014 U-19 World Cup in the UAE. He responded with 211 runs in six games at a staggering average of 70.33. After that it didn’t took much time for Sarfaraz to make the transition to the next level. He was soon selected in the Mumbai’s squad for the 50-over Vijay Hazare Trophy, followed by the Ranji Trophy debut for Mumbai at the Eden Gardens. But he was axed from the Mumbai squad after scoring 95 runs from three games.However, Sarfaraz was destined for bigger things. In 2015 Indian Premier League auctions, he was brought by the Royal Challengers Bangalore for Rs 50 lakh and soon became the youngest to play in the cash-rich league.In a match against Rajasthan Royals, Sarfaraz’s 21-ball 45 earned him universal respect and even made Kohli bow to the then 17-year-old. Although, Sarfaraz finished the season with 111 runs in 13 matches at an average of 27.75, his reputation had started to rise. In the same year, Sarfaraz, who by then had made a special place for himself in the shorter format of the game, switched over to Uttar Pradesh from Mumbai. Playing in his debut match for UP, Sarfaraz scored 155 off 156 balls laced with 15 fours and 4 sixes. That knock made many realise his potential in the longer format as well.With 2016, Sarfaraz grew a notch above the rest. In the U-19 World Cup held in Bangladesh, Sarfaraz amassed 355 runs at an average of 71 and ended as India’s highest run-getter and the second-highest overall in the tournament. Most of his innings reflected a sense of maturity and responsibility with which he would rescue the team out of danger situation. Even in the final which India lost to the West Indies, Sarfaraz top-scored with 51.In the ongoing ninth season of the IPL, Sarfaraz is already making waves. Appearing against Sunrisers Hyderabad in Bangalore’s first match of the season, he put a cherry on top of Kohli and de Villiers’ superlative efforts with a 10-ball 35 – a knock that was an example of 360-degree hitting and something that’s not found in the game’s textbooks. In the three matches he has played so far, Sarfaraz has managed 64 runs with an average of 32 and a mammoth strike-rate of over 213.advertisementIn a tender age, Sarfaraz seems to mirror the likes of the Gayle, Kohli and de Villiers. He has the power of Gayle, a Kohli-like maturity and de Villiers’ unorthodoxy.It is evident that a talent like Sarfaraz belongs to the big league, one that will serve the country in the years to come.