Mohammad Azharuddin – the magician with the bat
Quite a complex character to understand, Azhar has a unique place in the minds of Indian cricket fans. He is thoroughly loved for his trademark wristy style of batting & his gazelle-like movement on the field but he is much berated for his involvement in match-fixing scandal also.
Coming from the land known for stylish batting, Mohammad Azharuddin proved to be the best batsman to play from Hyderabad. He announced himself on the Test cricket stage with the loudest announcement possible by scoring three Test centuries in his first three Tests (vs England at Kolkata, Chennai & Kanpur).
The slump after such a dream run was not much of a surprise. Although Azhar did play a crucial knock of 93 against Pakistan in the World series ODI, he had to wait for almost two years to get another Test century.
When it rained, it poured for Azhar. He again hit a purple patch as he piled on three Test centuries in four Test innings. In 1989, Azhar was made the captain of the struggling Indian team. The struggles continued but the batsman in him kept rising.
192 at Eden Park versus New Zealand, 121 at Lords and 179 at Manchester against England were the standout performances by the captain which buoyed the team. Yet the wins were hard to come by.
In late 1993, India finally found a formula to improve the performance at home. They went into the matches with three spinners in the team and tried to take the advantage of weaknesses of foreign teams. England lost 3-0 in India, Sri Lanka got floored too.
The first portrayal of Azhar as a villain happened in the 1996 World Cup Semi-final though. His decision to bowl first at his favorite Eden Gardens turned out to be one of the worst toss decision in history as India committed batting suicide on a track that started turning square.
The shot at redemption by Azhar was something that deserved its place in a movie. A wounded tiger came out to bat in the second Test at Eden Gardens against South Africa and in one of the angriest batting performances, he scored a bludgeoning 109 runs off 77 balls with 18 boundaries and a six.
A year after, combining with Sachin Tendulkar, Azhar essayed another masterpiece this time at Cape Town. His 115 rescued India from a position of 58/5. In next few years, he kept accruing runs. He also became the first man to play 300 ODIs.
The darker side of Azharuddin came to the fore in the late 1990s. Hansie Cronje, the major culprit in match-fixing scandal named Azhar as the link between him and bookies. This ended the career of the right-handed wristy batsman on 99 Tests.
Azhar ended his career like he started – with a century but this time he was not the hope that the country was wishing for. He never played again for the country. Later he got involved in politics and is currently active in same.
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