Azharuddin

No batsman who played for India took elegance or grace to such divine proportions as Mohammad Azharuddin.He was the perfect manifestation of poetry in motion in Cricket.Azhar was not as technically sound as Rahul Dravid or Sachin Tendulkar ,as calculating as Virat Kohli or as destructive as Virendra Sehwag but for sheer artistry he surpassed them all. Few artists took the glory of the victimised Muslim community in sporting endeavour to such heights. No Indian batsman was more pleasing to the eye., resembling a lotus blooming.Azharuddin simply took batting artistry or wizardry to another dimension  taking oriental to regions unexplored. At his best he could manipulate a cricket bal in the manner of a magician.

I recommend every cricket liver to read Wisden monthly’s tribute to Azharuddin in 1990.. Oriental artistry was simply taken to untraversed areas by Azhar. Azhar’s strokes had the element of the composition of a musical symphony or a monumement being carved by a sculptor .in the manner he manoeuvred his willow. Simply flawed genius personified or the magician of batting.

I have never seen a batsman after Ranjitsinghji execute a leg glance with such finesse resembling the grace of a person bowling before a pulpit in a Church.It possessed the touch of a magician. When Azhar pierced the gap one got the vibrations of the touches of a painter’s brush making curves on a board. His mere touches sent even good balls crashing to the fence. His leg side play had the creativity of Michelangelo .

Like very few batsman Azhar had different strokes for a similar delivery. and could execute some that were surreal.Azhar could execute equally glorious when carting deliveries through the covers .He could whip the best bowlers with disdain but still treat the ball like a child. with his magical wrists, which were more pliable than anyone. He could execute the flick through midwicket from way outside the off stump, and in accordance with the field settings dispatch , the same ball through the covers with equal conviction.Azhar’s synchronization of body with stroke was reminiscent of a belly dancer.

Azharuudin was also one of the finest ever fielders in the covers, who would frequently dart or leap like a leopard either to obstruct the ball or pull off a stunning catch. Simply an epitome of energy on the field.

Few batsman or cricketers made their debut or set foot on the cricket field with such a bang Azhar wrote the first chapter of his illustrative career with untold glory. In his very first three tests at Calcutta,Madras and Kanpur , playing against England in 1984-85 Azhar, scored a century .I have never seen an Asian batsman in debut display talent at such a magnitude. He held his willow as though carrying a violin and executed strokes as though strutting it’s s strings. Few adjectives could justice to the flow of his strokeplay,resembling a melody. He amassed 439 runs t a remarkable average of 109.75 in his debut series.Sadly India lost the series inspite of Azhar’s epics.

In the Benson and Hedges world cricket championship  just  after his debut series he won India an important game against Pakistan facing Imran at his fastest. It made Imran promptly remark that Azhar would be the batsman of that decade.Azhar had a major hand in India grabbing the championship title then, with his sparkling batting.I can’t forget his composure facing the ferocity of Imran in the first game after he caused a major dent or tremors in the Indian batting.

He gave flashes of his talent in Australia in 1985-86 England in 1986 and was model of consistency in a home series against Pakistan in 1986-87. Few batsman ever negotiated the likes of Wasim Akram or Imran Khan so effortlessly as Azhar who scored two centuries. Sadly for India it again lost a series,inspite of Azhar being at his best.

Sadly he lost his form in a home series against West Indies in 1987-88 ,never coming to terms with likes of Patrick Paterson or Courtney Walsh. It was the same story on the 1989 tour of West Indies. In 1989 in Pakistan he again tore apart the likes of Wasim Akram and Imran with characteristic flowing strokes.

In 1990 in New Zealand Azhar scored one of cricket’s gems when scoring 192 in a most majestic fashion in the third test., of ony 259 balls and twenty six boundaries..He literally carried or salvaged the Indian innings like alone warrior or crusader..Azhar resembled an army launching an offensve,scoring at a blistering rate. He averaged over 75 in that series overall, scoring 303 runs.

In England in 1990 Azhar literally looked like a Ranjitsinghji or Mushtaq Ali re-incarnated ,with his scintillating strokeplay.For pure genius I have seen no Indian batsman surpass Azhar’s innings at Lords when he scored a century of 90 balls. I do have adequate vocabulary to do justice to the surreal strokes he exhibited and the manner he bissected the gaps in the mecca of cricket. To me it resembled famous monument sculpted or carved taking cricketing poetry to metaphysical depths. He virtually repeated the effort at Old Trafford in the second test  when scoring a match-saving 179. ,in  a mere 281 mins with more than half his scoring in boundaries. On the third day between lunch and re tea he became the first Indian batsman to score 100 run-in a session in a stet match. I regret aging that inspite of Azhar’s heroics India lost the series, who took oriental artistry to regions of divinity. He all but scored a century in every test, failing y just 15 runs to score three successive centuries.

On the 1991-92 tour of Australia apart from one classic century,Azhar was unsuccessful. He hardly came to terms with the pace and bounce of the wickets but in the 4th test scored a classic century, all but winning the game for India. It was simply a majestic exhibition of bating wizardry.

In a home series against England in 1992-93 Azhar again revealed batting domination and wizardry in sublime proportions. In Calcutta he gave one of batting ‘s most majestic exhibitions, controlling proceedings with the control of a motorcar and elegance of arose blooming.

In Sri Lanka in 1993-94 Azharuddin gave Bradmaesneque streaks, annihilating the turning ball as few Indians ever did. He averaged above 107,aggregating 307 runs. His knock of 152 was an all-time classic, when he put Murlitharan to regions of absolute submission .Rarely did any batsman torment the great Muralithran in such depth.as Azhar in that account. He literally played the role of alone crusader, with the next highest score only 57.

Inspite of one classy 82 ,Azhar for the third time failed against West Indies ,in 1994-95 at home . It had a strong bearing on India not winning that series.

He considerably lost form in 1996 in England but in 1996-97 against South Africa at home, he came back like a phoenix from the Ashes ,being  an epitome of consistency..I can’t forget his most effortless persecution of Alan Donald and Co.at Calcutta and Kanpur, as though he was literally crucifying them. . His unbeaten 163 at Kanpur was an exhibition of scintillating stroke play which won India the tset and series against formidable opposition. I also can’t forget his masterly 52 out of 137 on deteriorating batting surface in the 2nd innings at Calcutta .In the 1st innings of that Calcuuta test  he scored a  majestic counterattacking 109 in a record eight wicket partnership with Anil Kumble of 161 in the 1st innings. after India was tottering at 161 for the loss of seven wickets, literally down in the barrel.

On the 1996-97 tour of South Africa Azhar gave blemishes of his old touch in the second test at Cape town scoring 115 in a great 222 run partnership for the sixth  wicket with Tendulkar.For sheer artistry he even eclipsed Sachin that day. Sadly India lost that game.

Azhar was at his brilliant best at Calcutta in the home series against Australia in 1997-98 exciting a dazzling 163.He tackled great bowers like Shane Warne with remorseless ease. His batting considerably shaped a series win for India against the unofficial test world champions.

Azhar had a sensational loss of form playing against Pakistan at home in 1999 but in 2000- made a scintillating Muhammad Ali style comeback against New Zealand and South Africa.. He punished the likes of Alan Donald with utmost disdain at Bangalore.

Very sadly his career ended abruptly on grounds of match-fixing, compelling the icon to quit the game. Azhar was banned in December 2000 by the BCCI.It was sad that a glorious career had to end with a tragic climax, reminiscent of a hero of a film dying an inglorious death.Azhar was simply made the villain in the piece. Most unjustly he was banned. I strongly feel he was persecuted or victimized for being a Muslim.

It is ironical that Azharuddin was on the doorstep of playing in his 100th test ,having played 99 tests. It was cruel travesty that robbed him of this historic landmark.

It is very significant that Azhar ressurected himself to his dazzling best playing against England in 1992-93,coinciding with the Mumbai anti-Muslim  riots. As a Muslim he was shaken and got shivers down his spine, but on the cricket field. battled on with the spirit of a soldier. Most admirably with the nerves of a soldier he held his fort in South Africa when the Babri Masjid demolition took place. When Azhar scored his century at Calcuta in 1993,he symbolised the patriotism of the Muslims and challenge against bigotry,being mascot for secularism.

Azhar ended his career scoring 22 centuries,6215 run sat an average of 45.03.,which is statistically great. At home he averaged above 55, but only around 36 away.

It is to his credit that he averaged above 55 in test matches won and above 50 in drawn games. However this is because of his great home batting record.

Azhar was also one of India’s most successful captains, eclipsing the likes of Bishen Bedi,,Sunil Gavaskar or Kapil Dev. He was more dynamic or positive than nay skipper since the Nawab of Pataudi.There could be criticism that when he left the state of Indian cricket wa s in tatters and he never sufficiently pumped the adrealanin of the Indian team to win a world cup.Still it is creditable that he averaged 47.73 as captain before 1995.. He led India to 14 tests victories in 47 tests and 90 ODI wins out of 174, which was an Indian record at that time.

Against spin bowling Azhar was one of the best batsman ever. I can’t forget the manner he danced down the track to sweep even Shane Warne of his feet and even devouring Murlitharan on turning track sin Sri Lanka.

He championed the cause in New Zealand like few batting greats and in England at his best was a class act.Azhar was also consistency personified against top South African and Australian bowling attacks at home, which gives him credibility and also took apart likes of Wasim Akram and Imran Khan.

Rising like a phoenix from the Ashes was a predominant feature of Azhar’s career,making startling comebacks after having losses in batting form.

Sadly inspite of having the gift of the Gods Azhar would miss out on joining the all-time greats, inspite of being statistically a great batsman. At the start of his career Azhar looked destined to join a Gavaskar,Greg Chappell or Viv Richards.

However his performances overseas and against top pace away from home do not compare with the likes of a Gavaskar Tendulkar,Dravid or even Kohli .It could be said that Azhar was suspect against top pace, which is really suprising considering the talent with which he was endowed. I can never forget how at times he mercilessly punished the likes of Mcgrath,Alan Donald or Devilliers.However Azhar hardly fancied the bouncy tracks of Australia, South Africa or West Indies, averaging under 30 there. Ironically he was never his true self even at home against West Indies.

He also. had frequent bouts of inconsistency in his career. One day he would look like a galleon in full sail,on the other day like a ship sinking.

To have joined the club of the true greats Azhar should have blended the grit or determination of compatriot Mohinder Amarnath or latter Rahul Dravid.It could well be said that blending Azhar’s god gifted talent and creativity with the solidity of a Dravid or Amarnath could comprise the perfect batsman.

I would bracket or club Azharuddin with the likes of Zaheer Abbas and Gundappa Vishwanath.He was as poetic and stylish as them even if not as classically corrrect ,.Similar to Zaheer ,he was unsuccessful against the top pace of West Indies ,which Vishwanath relished home and away.I would rank Zaheer ahead because of his batting in England and Australia and Vishawnath ahead because of his consistency against top pace as well as the fact that  India never losing a game when Vishy scored a century. Unlike Zaheer and Vishy,Azhar never scored a double Century.

Amongst Indian batsman I would rate Azhar behind Tendulkar, Gavaskar, Kohli, Dravid, Sehwag ,Vishwanath and Laxman,in that order. By a whisker he would edge the great Dilip Vengsarkar ,who was a maestro against pace. To me it was lack of temperament that obliterated Azharuddin reaching the pinnacle of true greatness.

I would overall bracket Azhar a notch below stars like Martin Crowe, David Gower ,Laxman and Inzamam on the basis of performances against top pace. In his time Martin Crowe or Mark Waugh would just pip Azhar for a place in a world test XI.

In One Day Internationals,Azhar averaged above 36 and at his best was arguably the best batsman in the world. To win an ODI game at times I would wish Azhar to be in my side than anyone, with his ability to manipulate the ball .Sadly he was not at his best in the world cups, inspite of revealing flashes of brilliance like against Australia in 1992..To me he could join the club of great ODI batsman like Mark Waugh,Inzamam Ul Haq ,Alan Lamb or even Zaheer Abbas.

Cricket is not only about statistical records, technical skill or destructive ability but about grace and poetry. It is Azharuddin to me who revived the golden age of Cricket more than a Gavaskar, Tendulkar  Dravid or Kohli by giving batting artistry a new definition. In my personal book for sheer style and elegance I would rank Azharuddin ,with David Gower, Frank Worrell, Denis Compton  and Zaheer Abbas ,as the most stylish batsman ever.

It is sad that the nation or it’s cricket administration has not pardoned Azharuddin from his deeds who is still treated as a demon in the Indian cricket world. It is symbolic of the ostra cisation of the Muslim Community in India. I can never forget the agony caused to Azhar by the pain inflicted on the Muslims in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. .The high court even ultimately exonerated Azhar of his match-fixing charges, who waged a legal battle to get charges revoked ,for a considerable period  It is worth reading Rajdeep Sardesaai’s account of Azhar’s conviction who narrates how the icon was framed. In 2011 in full rage he expressed his indignation stating “Lies,all lies.”

No doubt Azhar had his flaws be it with his forgetting the supportive role of his first wife Maureen whom he divorced and marrying actresss Sangeeta Bijlani,whom he also  divorced in 1996,.His marriage too affected his cricketing career ,unable to come to terms with his stardom.

Whatever flaws I would love an Azharuddin re-born in the game of cricket, to resurrect its old poetry. Whatever his mistakes I would like Azhar to be remembered for creating the equivalent of a renaissance to the glorious game of cricket.

Harsh Thakor is a freelance journalist.Toured India,particularly Punjab .Written on Mass movements ,,Massline,Maoism on blogs like Democracy and Class Struggle and frontierweekly .An avid cricket lover too who has posted writings on blogs like Pakpassion Indian Cricket Fans and Sulekha.com

Email-thakor.harsh5@gmail.com


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One Comment

  1. I enjoy your commentary. A dose of nostalgia can be so refreshing at times