37 and a hazhar runs to score!                                                            Bombay Times |15/1/2000

On February 8, 2000, Mohammed Azharuddin, deposed skipper of the Indian team, will celebrate his 37th birthday. So does that mean it is the end of the road for him? Far from it. Going by the current performances of the Indian cricketers Down Under, Azhar surely would have been a far better choice in the middle-order
that is showing no staying power whatsoever. In a recent interview, Azhar said: "I know for a fact, which has also been reported in the media, that the selectors had me in the side." This statement sends out the message that the team management did not want India's most successful captain in the team, in spite of the selectors approval!

So, how did this slide come about? Once a shy, endearing teammate who went about his business of scoring runs and pouching catches with alarming regularity (his 153 catches is the highest in One-day cricket), Azhar suddenly found himself in a Catch-22 situation; a situation into which he was pitchforked by the then chairman of selectors Raj Singh Dungarpur, who was building a team of the 90s.

From a shy, unassuming lad, he was suddenly thrust with the responsibility of leading a team loaded with four ex-skippers — Kapil Dev, Ravi Shastri, Dilip Vengsarkar and Krishnamachari Srikkanth. The going was not exactly rosy in the
early years as a skipper. He went through the motions of captaincy agreeing to whatever his teammates said. But that soon changed and Azhar began getting more assertive and aggressive, a trait, it appears, which none of his teammates liked.

There was a change in his approach, too. Gone was that disarming smile. In its place was a worried brow. Azhar now clearly meant business. Soon, he began keeping aloof. His marriage too was not making things any easier on him. Azhar the extremely likeable bloke had suddenly turned hostile. Even scribes began to feel the heat so much so that inspite of his tremendous record as a skipper, he was laid on the mat and stripped apart at every given opportunity.

Going by this yardstick, if Azhar was the skipper today, there would have been zillions of post-mortems on the matches and his approach. A 3-0 whitewash in the Test series and a not-so- impressive start to the ongoing tri-series in Australia would not have been taken kindly to. But there is not much of a furore on that front. Not as yet. Sachin is the skipper you see!

Even at 36, Azhar today is the fittest among the cricketers. And his boast of having two years of cricket left, is not an idle one. He works hard at his fitness, an addiction which unfortunately did not catch up with his teammates. As of now, he has played in 98 Test matches scoring 6104 runs with 21 centuries. In the abridged version of the game, he has played 323 matches scoring 9111 runs.

But Azhar, as he always says, is a patient man with a positive approach. And he knows that there is a ray of light at the end of the dark tunnel. As of now, the team management will not be able to keep the stylish Hyderabadi at bay for long. He has began his quest to get into the national team in right earnest running up
huge scores in domestic cricket.

Vivian Richards once described his batting "As a breath of fresh air." After yesterday's dismal batting display, Indian cricket badly needs that.


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Copyright 2006 Martin D'Souza. All rights reserved.