Familiar Persons
History of Mohammad Azharuddin
Category : Familiar Persons
posted Date :
Total No.of views :
Total No.of Comments :
4.5 / 5 (2 votes)

Full Name: Mohammad Azharuddin

Born: February 8, 1963, Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh

Major teams: India, Derbyshire, Hyderabad

Batting style: Right-hand bat

Bowling style: Right-arm medium

The story of Mohammad Azharuddin is the story of a man and his taqdeer. Indeed, the dramatic turns in Azhar`s life would do justice to a Greek tragedy or even one of Bollywood`s great melodramas. Such has been his taqdeer that one can scarcely believe it is fact and not fiction. Azhar is quoted as once having said, "Trials and tribulations are God`s way of testing our faith." Azhar`s faith in God and his implicit trust that whatever He has in store for him is for the best, has allowed him to stay level-headed through twists of fate that would have destroyed many other men.

Azhar arrived on the international scene in the wake of national tragedy and upheaval that followed the assassination of the nation`s beloved prime minister, Indira Gandhi, in 1984. While the nation mourned, Azhar faced great personal tragedy right at the moment of his greatest personal triumph. Days before his Test match debut at Eden Gardens, Calcutta, he lost his maternal grandfather, Mr. Vajehuddin, who had taken Azhar from his parents and raised him like a son from his earliest childhood. Seeing Azhar bat in a Test match would have fulfilled Mr. Vajehuddin`s fondest dream and would have given Azhar great pleasure. Instead, he was faced with great loss just as he was being presented the world on a platter. This juxtaposition of immense joy and profound grief runs as a theme through Azhar`s life.

Within days of his debut, he zoomed from a nobody to a media sensation as he scored a second, and then a unique third hundred in successive Tests against David Gower`s visiting Englishmen at Madras and Kanpur. With each innings, the media frenzy seemed to grow exponentially. "The Jewel in India`s Crown," screamed one newspaper headline. Amul, the Indian dairy company, and coiner of many a witty phrase on its much loved billboard advertisements was quick to come up with: "Hazarondin Ka Taste Record"!

And what a record Azharuddin compiled! He was the fourth Indian to score 6000 or more Test runs, and only the second after Sunil Gavaskar to score more than 20 centuries (later, Sachin Tendulkar joined as the fifth member of the 6000-run club) and the third member of the 20+ century club.

One amazing fact is that Azhar`s fifty-to-century conversion rate was as good or better than that of either Gavaskar or Tendulkar. Once Azhar scored a fifty, he was the most likely of the three to score a hundred.

Azhar`s ODI record is equally impressive. He is still the holder of the record of "fastest ODI century by an Indian", his 62-ball century against New Zealand in 1988. Azhar was also the first player in ODI history to play more than 300 of them, and the highest ODI run-scorer of them all until Sachin Tendulkar overtook him. His fielding too was absolutely superb and though not a "natural", he kept improving himself with endless practice and a genuine joy in mastering the art. Towards the end of his career one often saw Azhar shame players many years, and even a whole decade, his junior, with his athleticism, quickness and grace in the field.

However, mere numbers can say little about how this gifted batsman compiled his runs. Azhar`s swashbuckling style often made batting look a ridiculously easy task. What you first noticed about his batting was his easy upright stance, completely side-on in a naturally orthodox position, a lovely high backlift and an array of wristy strokes that were simply out of this world. Azhar in full flow was simply breathtaking to watch. He was also lightning quick between the wickets.

In the early part of his career, and often in England where the weather is a bit cooler, Azhar batted in long sleeves. Standing as he took guard, his long-sleeve shirt rippling in the wind, many a real-old-timer would probably have been transported back to his childhood when he may have seen the legendary Kumar Sri Ranjitsinghji. If he then saw Azhar leg-glance one to the fine leg fence, or launch into a ferocious cover drive, the blade carving the air like a rapier, he would have sworn that "Ranji" was alive again.

Though his first Test century took him 324 balls and nearly 443 minutes that was an aberration, and ridiculously slow compared to the rate Azhar was to score hundreds later in his career. Azhar holds the joint record for the fastest Test century by an Indian along with Kapil Dev, each scoring a century off only 74 balls. Azhar`s century came against South Africa at his beloved Eden Gardens in 1996-97, where he tore Allan Donald and a young Lance Klusner to shreds. In fact Azhar and Kapil, jointly with Ian Botham, hold the world record of scoring three separate Test match hundreds in less than 100 balls each

A striking aspect of Azhar`s centuries was that many were made in the most daunting of circumstances, often when he himself, or the team, was faced with seemingly unsurmountable odds. This ability to deliver when the chips were down was perhaps the most amazing part of Azhar`s ability, and may have had something to do with his faith. Harsha Bhogle in his brilliant biography of Azhar says Azhar once told him: "Scoring runs is not in my hands. If He desires me to do well, nothing can prevent me from doing so. And if He has decided it is not my time, there is nothing I can do about it. All I have to do is try my best." This rings true of a man who believes in taqdeer and although it may seem fatalistic or weak to some, they misunderstand the bond he shares with his religion, which had a great calming influence on him and allowed him to perform his best in adversity.

One such knock in adversity came in 1990 against Graham Gooch`s England when in one of his first matches as Indian Captain, on a belter of a pitch at Lord`s, Azhar decided to bowl first, contrary to popular wisdom. India were pulverized to the tune of 653 runs for the loss of only 4 wickets, Gooch hitting a massive 333. Beleaguered and under high pressure, Azhar replied by scoring an 87-ball century to set Lords ablaze, eventually falling for 121, but ensuring that India avoided the follow-on if not defeat.

Another such against-the-odds knock was his classy 182 against Graham Gooch`s visiting England team at Eden Gardens in 1992-93 when he was on the verge of losing the captaincy, and quite possibly his place in the side, after disastrous tours to Australia and South Africa saw him start his captaincy with one win and seven losses. He ended up winning the match and India then whitewashed England 3-0 in the most comprehensive defeat inflicted on an English team in India.

Such bravura performances were repeated time and again, including another excellent effort at Newlands in Capetown, where in the company of Sachin Tendulkar, he launched a ferocious counter attack against Donald, Pollock and Klusener, scoring a 96-ball century, although India again eventually lost the match.

But Azhar did not always play the role of the boy on the burning bridge. He could also press home the advantage when required. In fact, among his better knocks was a massive 163 not out against Australia again at his favorite Eden Gardens in 1997-98, where he savaged Shane Warne and company along with all the other Indian batsmen. All batsmen from 1 through 6, including Azhar, scored at least a fifty, and the openers missed their hundreds by just a few runs. This innings allowed India to record its biggest ever innings defeat over Australia.

One of the lesser known facts about the Azhar captaincy is his Indian record for the maximum number of innings defeats on opponents, including two sets of three innings defeats in a row, inflicted on Sri Lanka and then on England, twice, followed by Zimbabwe. Azhar ended up with a record 14 wins as Indian Captain -- more than half of them via an innings defeat.

Thus Azhar eventually repaid the faith reposed in him by the then BCCI President, Raj Singh Dungarpur, who offered him the captaincy in truly dramatic Hindi movie style. Following the 1989 tour of Pakistan, where Krish Srikkanth led India to a 0-0 draw in four matches, Raj Singh offered Azhar the captaincy with his famous question, "Miya, Kaptaan Banoge?" This was done in hush-hush, conspiratorial fashion with the background of a near revolt by the players against the BCCI over the issue of the money they were to be paid. There were clearly other stronger candidates for the captaincy, including Ravi Shastri whom Gavaskar had been grooming for the post, as well as Kapil Dev himself. However in the young Azhar, Raj Singh found a man who was too gentlemanly to openly fight the Board on the payment issue, and who because of his relative inexperience could be manipulated by the Board. That Azhar was able to slowly establish his authority and compile a superb home record as captain, along with coach Ajit Wadekar with whom he shared an excellent rapport, was quite an achievement.

It was also ironic that Azhar, a man who was chosen by the BCCI president as the least likely to fight the Board for increased player compensation, should only a few short years later be implicated in match-fixing for purely monetary gain. The details of this entire episode remain murky. This much is clear: Azhar was not the only one accused. Many others were also implicated, and if Azhar was guilty he was only one of many others, including players from India and overseas who were similarly involved. Significantly, the CBI had also charged the BCCI with malfeasance and foreknowledge of match-fixing.

Surprisingly only Azhar, and to a certain extent Ajay Jadeja, of the international stars implicated in the report by the CBI -- India`s premiere crime investigation agency -- were punished beyond a mild slap on the wrists by their respective Boards. The BCCI, whose officials were also targeted by the CBI, banned Azhar for life and Jadeja for five years. This was as blatant a case of the fox policing the hen house as there can be. Azhar now awaits his day in court, but at the glacial pace at which the wheels of justice operate in India he will likely be an old man before the whole truth emerges. In the meantime, he must live with the stain of dishonor and persevere as he endures yet another Test of his faith.

Thus did a glittering career grind to a sudden, dramatic and sad halt. Azhar remained stranded on a career total of 99 test matches. This striking figure of just one match away from the coveted 100 Test caps is what his taqdeer had in store for him, and is a fitting epitaph to a career that promised much, delivered a lot, and yet did not quite end as it should have. In a way, Azhar provided a premonition of what was to come to Harsha Bhogle who noted in his 1994 biography of Azhar that amidst the Reebok shoes, Armani shades, Polo shirts and fancy watches, Azhar always carried his prayer mat, skull cap and lungi, and prayed five times a day. When questioned by Bhogle, Azhar confided that in the beginning he had very little and now had much, but if ever the time came that he had to go back to having very little, he would be every bit as happy and satisfied.

Azhar, despite the humiliation of going from "Mr. India" as the media labelled him to "persona non grata", has never been bitter. Though far from poverty, Azhar has in some ways come full circle. In fact, in a recent interview Azhar who now owns and runs a couple of gyms (befitting a fitness fanatic) remains remarkably positive. He still maintains that he has been very fortunate in life and cricket was the best thing ever to have happened to him. The acceptance of what taqdeer has handed out, without bitterness, indicates a man whose faith runs deep. That, in final analysis, is what Mohammad Azharrudin should be remembered for.