Archive for September, 2011

Tragedy Of Being Azharuddin
September 16, 2011

What will be on Mohammad Azharuddin‘s mind today? He lost his son who by most accounts was just like his father – in genius and in mannerisms. Ayazuddin, an upcoming cricketer, who died after a motorbike crash, was only 19. Not an age to die but to start life, as Harsha Bhogle said.

Azharuddin was my hero when I followed cricket not so long ago. He was one of the most graceful batsmen, who scored runs briskly without appearing hurried.  He was almost nonchalant at the crease while his swinging wrist punished the most menacing bowlers. Azharuddin, debuted against England with three hundreds on a trot, a world record, in 1984 home series.

The mornings in my home town Changanacherry, during the Eighties, were slow-paced. How I waited for the Malayalam newspaper that arrived just before Seven, and on many days it was only to follow Azharuddin’s exploits. I was growing up on cricket, like many in this provincial neighborhood, after India’s World Cup victory in 1983.

He crafted unbeaten 93 against Pakistan setting off India’s successful campaign at Benson & Hedges world championship in 1985. I would argue this was our finest tittle win ever. A legend was in the making.  Gavaskar and Kapil Dev had scaled their peaks.  Azharuddin captained India through most of the Nineties, when cricket exploded on television screens and emerged a big money spinner. The mores of the game were  changing, and so was  Azharuddin.  I didn’t know.

And then there he was, as a tragic figure, like many a fallen hero. He was banned for life from the sport after being named a key figure in the betting scandal that almost threatened Indian cricket. He had played 99 test matches and 334 one-dayers.  At the time, he was still the fittest player in the Indian dressing room.

My friend KC Vijaya Kumar, a cricket correspondent with The Hindu, recalled meeting him after his last test match against South Africa in Bangalore eleven years ago. A ban was on the cards with the Central Bureau of Investigation nailing him in the scandal. “He could have continued for several years. He probably knew it (ban) was coming, but was still at his generous best giving his match fee to a needy ground staff at Chinnaswamy Stadium,” he recounted.

Azharuddin had many friends, mostly from his community, who spoke about his sensitive side. My friend too would turn eloquent with those stories.  It was not nostalgia. But about a gifted successful man wasting much of it nonchalantly.

Last year, the sport’s most successful bowler Muthiah Muralitharan rated Azharuddin on par with Sachin Tendulkar. Former spinner and umpire Venkataraghavan remarked “Azharuddin has the best wrist in the game, and Tendulkar isn’t too far behind”.

Azharuddin’s later day transformation was a baffling story, and remains one. Failed marriages, rumoured affairs and entry into politics added mystery to the man.

But as me and my friend often said, the tragedy of being Azharuddin was his inability to talk his way out.  He never articulated himself well, not in the best of times and in the worst of times. When many of his peers talked and wept their way out of crisis, Azharuddin was stoic even in destruction. He never opened up. An inhibition probably shaped by his  upbringing in closed circles. 

That’s what makes me wonder what’s on his mind now. After losing a son he was so proud of.  Azharuddin’s tragedy is felt more in his silence.

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