Inshallah, it's time my cup overfloweth: Azhar                                  Bombay Times |7/5/1999

MUMBAI: Even before he could leave Indian shores for the World Cup in England, the call for Mohammed Azharuddin to step down as captain reached a crescendo from many corners, especially after the defeats at the hands of Pakistan in the recently concluded series. His injury at Sharjah and Ajay Jadeja’s elevation and excellent performance as captain did not
help matters.

But India’s most experienced batsman and the only player to have featured in the highest number of One-day matches (315), has been there before — the heady highs and nightmarish lows when at the helm. He has seen it all but never once has he buckled under pressure. Many are still hopeful Azhar flops at the start of the World Cup and concedes his seat to Jadeja. However, his detractors are in for a disappointment as the wristy batsman is raring to prove his critics wrong. “Inshallah, we will win the Cup,”' he says.

There's that familiar shrug of the shoulder when cornered for an exclusive chat. The Indian skipper was at first evasive, but relented when persisted with.

Following are excerpts from an interview:

The Azhar bat of late seems to have lost some of its magic. What is the problem?
Yes, I admit I’ve not scored too many runs of late. I’ve been getting out in the 20s and 30s. But I did make a decent 74 not out and with my fitness coming around, I guess I should be among the runs again.

Is it loss of form or lack of concentration?
I think it’s a combination of both. The two are heavily dependent on each other and when the lean patch goes, everything falls into place.

Suddenly, your winning streak has ended. What do you feel is the main reason?
We have been playing a lot of matches of late and all of them are being telecast continuously and the people want us to win all the time. But it is not humanly possible to win all the time. Unfortunately, all our losses have come at the same time and aroused public interest. But that is not the main factor. The main thing is the continuous criticism of the team and our performance. It has got our morale down completely. But the team should be ready to bounce back in England.

How do you react to all the accusations of not being committed to the game and not being a motivator on the field?

All this is utterly loose and baseless talk and spread by a few people with vested interests. If I wasn’t committed I wouldn’t have lasted so long. The selectors have shown faith in me once more and that is because they feel that I am still the right man for the job. As for motivation on the field, I think that is between me and the team. I don’t have to make a show for the public or for the TV cameras. It’s a private thing.

All this talk of certain people asking you ‘indirectly’ to step down as skipper even after the Board is committed... doesn’t it anger you? Don’t you ever say, what the hell. Let me go out and make these guys eat crow, without curry, just as Kapil did to the English press in 1983?
My biggest asset has always been my patience and that has helped me to overcome my anger. I only smile at the pettiness of people and of the so-called observers when I read all this. I don’t get angry because I have confidence in myself. All this is unnecessary and petty talk of small-minded people. The Board has decided, so to question their decision itself is wrong. I think I’ve proved myself and with the good wishes of genuine cricket lovers, will do so again.

In 1987, you almost took us to the final of the Reliance Cup with your stroke-filled score of 60-plus, but unfortunately fell to an erroneous decision. In 1992, the less said the better. In 1996, we again failed to make the final. Where do you see India in this World Cup?
I see the last three situations as hurdles which we could not overcome. This time we shall try even harder to overcome it and win the final. All we have to do is play to our full potential and play positive cricket. And we need the support and the prayers of the media and the public at this point, not their criticism.

Finally, will we see the Azhar who always delivered in times of crisis. Will we see him mesmerise the bowlers and bring us back the Cup?

Inshallah! God willing, yes. It is long overdue.


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Copyright 2006 Martin D'Souza. All rights reserved.