Author: Alan Birkinshaw
He was a giant in every sense of the word and probably the most popular overseas player to have graced the Bradford League.
His beaming smile and charismatic character made the 6foot 7ins Sarfraz Ahmed a well liked wherever he went in his amazing 16 seasons with Woodlands.
Even those batsmen who found his left-arm seam bowling so hard to play or those bowlers who suffered at the hands of his ferocious big hitting were full of admiration for him.
The spectators loved him to. Home or away you would see him walking around the boundary when Woodlands were batting shaking hands with those sat around the boundary as he greeted them with his quietly spoken hello and a firm handshake.
And when Sarfraz went into bat you would see all the cars around the boundary empty as everybody wanted to watch Sarfraz when he was wielding his giant bat.
Huge sixes were his speciality and Woodlands secretary Brian Pearson says that on one visit to Farsley, no better judge than former England skipper Ray Illingworth reckoned he had never seen anybody hit the ball so far or hard in the Bradford League
When Sarfraz arrived to join Woodlands as they moved into the Bradford League in 2001, he was an unknown quantity, but by the time he played his farewell match – the 2016 Priestley Cup final win over Pudsey St Lawrence – everybody knew Saffy.
The guard of honour given to him as he left the field for the last time from the players of both teams and the standing ovation, he received from the crowd were ringing endorsements of the huge impression he had created in 16 wonderful seasons.
During that time, he took 787 wickets at a miserly 14.65, and despite batting in the tail he scored 4,538 runs at an average of 22.58.
His best wicket haul and his highest individual score came in his debut season as Woodlands won Division Two at the first attempt. He claimed 80 wickets at 10.69 apiece and made his only Bradford League century, 111no, as he averaged 60.67. Not bad for starters.
What was to follow was simply stunning. He topped 50 wickets in each of his first three seasons in the top-flight and bagged 71 wickets as they pipped Pudsey Congs – chasing a record-breaking sixth-successive title – on the final day of the 2005 season.
It was certainly a dramatic afternoon with Pudsey Congs suffering defeat at Baildon after looking likely winners for much of the contest. It meant that Woodlands needed to beat Bankfoot to be champions for the first time.
But Woodlands were struggling chasing a modest Bankfoot total. They were nine wickets down when Sarfraz put everybody out of their misery by hitting a six and a four to win the game. That was fairly typical for a player who won the league’s fastest fifty trophy three times, 2004, 2011 and his final season in 2016.
It was the first of four title wins in a row for Woodland and in 2006 they did the league and Priestley Cup double after losing in the final in each of the previous three years. For good measure they also won the Black Sheep Yorkshire Champions Trophy.
Woodlands won the league and Black Sheep Yorkshire Champions Trophy double in 2007, but their hopes of a league and cup double were shattered in the 2008 Priestley Cup final by a brilliant innings of 121 by Andrew Bairstow as Congs triumphed.
There was no silverware for Sarfraz and Woodlands for the next two seasons, but in 2011 they won their fifth league title and added another in 2012.
Sarfraz and Pieter Swanepoel were simply the best new-ball pairing in the league at that time who were backed up by the left-arm spin of Chris Brice.
In 2015 Sarfraz was injured and missed his side’s Heavy Woollen Cup final win over Huddersfield Leaguers Hoylandswaine, but he played in the earlier rounds and picked up a winners’ medal to go aside the one he collected in 2004 when Woodlands defeated Spen Victoria.
When Sarfraz announced he would be leaving Woodlands in 2016 it was fitting that he had one final big stage on which to say goodbye.
The 105-run Priestley Cup final win over Pudsey St Lawrence was a fitting way to bow out.
As he waved farewell and prepared to return home to his family in Pakistan, he had some wonderful memories and 13 medals to remind him of his time at Woodlands - 6 League winners, 2 Priestley Cup winners, 2 Black Sheep winners, 2 Heavy Woollen Cup winners and 1 Division Two winners.
Brian Pearson says: “I have never known an overseas player so popular with team-mates and opponents alike.
“To me he was one of four Woodlands legends alongside Pieter Swanepoel, Tim Orrell and Chris Brice.
“He still rings me up and chats to people at the club on Facebook. He jokingly told me recently that his knees are better, and he might come over and bowl for us again.”
There will be plenty of batsmen who will be relieved he was only joking.
Sarfraz Ahmed and his Woodlands team-mates after winning the 2016 Priestley Cup final
SARFRAZ AHMED'S CAREER RECORD