Destiny’s abandoned child
No one imagined that Mohammad Azharuddin would become such a big cricketer. In his initial days the selectors wanted to drop him but a few seniors said he be given another chance and in his next match he scored a hundred in a Ranji match and never looked back,” says Arshad Ayub, the president of Hyderabad Cricket Association (HCA) who played with Azhar in 13 tests and 30-odd One Day Internationals
“No one imagined that Mohammad Azharuddin would become such a big cricketer. In his initial days the selectors wanted to drop him but a few seniors said he be given another chance and in his next match he scored a hundred in a Ranji match and never looked back,” says Arshad Ayub, the president of Hyderabad Cricket Association (HCA) who played with Azhar in 13 tests and 30-odd One Day Internationals.
The most loved and controversial Hyderabadi cricketer Mohammad Azharuddin is back in the news with the release his bio-pic. One wonders, is there anything left that people do not know about Azhar? Reams have been written about his meteoric rise and fall. Coaches, administrators and players who were closely associated with him share rare untold anecdotes about Azhar, which go to show that he was destined to make the 22-yards all his own, until of course he let it all go away
If that one extra match was not given to Azhar, India would not have had the second most successful captain ever. Azhar was destined to play for India as events unfolded in such a manner that things fell into place for the ‘wonder boy’ as he was called then.
Few know that Vijaya Paul, the coach who mentored A Rayudu and Pragyan Ojha, at the height of his first class career voluntarily stepped down in 1983 to make way for Azharuddin and Vivek Jaisimha.
Only later did Azhar come to know about it and this exhibition of selflessness has been acknowledged by Azharuddin in his biography which was penned by fellow Hyderabadi Harsha Bhogle. Vijaya Paul says, “It was a big decision for me and I am happy that my decision, in what ever little way, helped.”
Initially, Azhar was a leg spinner and it was Vasant Amladi, coach from Mumbai, roped in by the then Hyderabad Cricket Association secretary Man Singh for the summer camp, who spotted Azhar.
Man Singh reminisces. “Vasant one day came up to me and said this lad is a far better batsman than a bowler. I just told him that he was now in his hands and had all the liberty.”
In the coming months and years, Man Singh played a major role in shaping Azhar’s career. Few days before the selectors named the captain of the Indian team, they were in Hyderabad to watch a Duleep trophy match, and Man Singh played host to them.
He says, “Bishan Singh Bedi, Gundappa Vishwanath, Naren Tamhane, Ramesh Saxena, Akash Lal and Raj Singh Dungarpur were in town and we got an inkling that they were not too happy with K Srikanth and the decision to make Azhar the captain was in a way taken here in Hyderabad by the selectors.”
He further adds, “Azhar was not too keen too keen to play for South Zone and wanted to rest, but I egged him on and he eventually led the team and South Zone won the trophy under his captaincy.”
Destiny, here, once again played a role as Krishnamachary Srikkanth did not play the match or instead of Azhar he would have been the captain had he played. Man Singh says, “In a way all pieces fell in place for Azhar and he was destined to captain Indian team.”
“Miya, captain banoge?” this query by Raj Singh Dungarpur on the morning of January 6, 1989 has become a cricketing folklore but keen followers of the game believed that Azhar’s choice was also suited to the BCCI bosses then, as senior players were raising their voices on payment issues, and Azhar shy and way too gentlemanly was an ideal candidate for the mandarins of BCCI.
Man Singh says, “It all happened very fast for Azhar. Now when we look back, it feels that the skinny boy from Vittalwadi was destined to take on the mantle of Indian cricket in the 90s.” As far as the allegations of match fixing go, Man Singh says, “Destiny, is what I would say, nothing more nothing less.”
What else one can say, avers Noshir Mehta, the former off spinner for Hyderabad, who shares the same passion for physical fitness as Azhar, “He was destined to play for the country and it is fate that he be stranded on 99 Test matches. The turn of events were such that his life had to pan out the way it has, colourful as his batting.”
People believe that too much money and fame at an early age was too much for the boy from a small locality in Hyderabad to handle. The transformation of the earthy Azhar who probably bought his T-shirts from the stores in Abids to Tuxedo suits and Rolex watches from across the globe was fast and furious. So was the allure of Bollywood and Sangeeta Bijlani who he embraced for Naureen his first wife.
One aspect about Azhar that all swear by is his humility whether it was in 1984-85 when he burst on to the scene as a gawky 21-year-old or now at 53. Azhar never forgets his old friends and mentors. John Manoj, secretary, HCA recalls, “Even today, whenever Azhar introduces someone he never fails to tell them that I was his first captain.
If there is one thing that comes to mind about Azhar is his humility.” Narrating an incident about how Azhar spotted him in an audience at a school function in which he was a chief guest in the 90s, an old friend Naresh, says, “I was sitting in the audience.
Azhar called me up on to the stage and whispered in my ears, ‘Mian abhi bhi tu chanda vasool karta hain ya v?’ “In the early eighties we would collect money to play cricket matches. We had a hearty laugh.”
Life ban on playing cricket, divorce, losing his son to a road accident, Azhar has seen it all. Now at 53, he seems to gather himself once again and is making mends with his life with his collar up of course!
There will be regrets for Azhar who had the world at his feet and was a God to many cricket fans but gave it all away and chose to be a mortal.
Azhar’s life is a tale of rags to riches, riches to ruin. It could so easily have been a fairy tale but for human folly and weaknesses. It was destined that way.