From being hailed as one of the greatest captains India had, to going through the ignominy of being banned for alleged match-fixing, then winning the case that cleared his name, and now back to mainstream prominence as an administrator, life has almost come a full circle for Mohammad Azharuddin.
His rehabilitation, so to speak, after a life ban is more than complete.
Touching upon the ban and subsequent legal battle, the former India captain has said that he is happy to be back as part of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, the very organisation he fought in court.
In December 2000, Azharuddin was handed a life ban by the BCCI for his involvement in match-fixing. However, after a long drawn out legal battle, Azharuddin saw the Andhra Pradesh High Court revoking the ban in November 2012.
In 2019, he had a stand named after him at the Rajiv Gandhi International Cricket Stadium in Hyderabad. He rang the bell at the Eden Gardens ahead of an India match the year before and the redemption continued when he was included in a group of former cricketers honoured with a lap around the iconic ground during India’s first pink-ball Test against Bangladesh.
It’s fair to say, for him at least, the ban is firmly in the rear-view mirror.
Talking about the ban that ended his playing career during an interview on a show titled ‘Cricket Corner with Saleem Khaliq’ by Cricket Pakistan, Azharuddin said:
“I don’t hold anyone responsible (for my suffering) and I don’t believe in blaming anyone. It was my fight and fought it for 12 years in the court and won the case.
“I am also happy that after that I became the president of Hyderabad Cricket Association and I attended the AGM of the same board which had banned me. I really don’t know what had happened and why I was banned but it felt good to go back.
“Some people suggested that I should take legal action against the board but I didn’t feel that it was the right thing to do since it was the Board I represented as a player. Whatever happened, happened.
“I am just happy that my patience paid off. Jaise kehte hai ki sabra ka phal meetha hota hai. Mera jo sabra tha uska phal meetha hi mila. (They say the fruit of patience is always sweet. And I got the just reward for my patience). The result I got was sweet. I don’t like to speak about the subject much but since you asked, I replied to the query.”
Azharuddin played 99 Tests and scored 6215 runs at an average of 45. He also played 334 ODIs, scoring 9378 runs at 36.92 during a 15-year international career that had begun with three successive centuries.
Though he didn’t know that the 99th Test of his career would be his last, Azharuddin said he has no regrets at missing out on completing a century of matches.
“I am a firm believer in fate and whatever is in your destiny it happens. I look at this way: that nowadays if a player is a class act, and he reaches 99 Tests, he will be made to play the 100th. So I don’t think this record of 99 Test matches that I hold is going to be broken. I look at things positively,” Azharuddin said.
Indeed, Azhar is the only player (as things stand) to finish his career on 99 Tests.
The former skipper said he considered himself fortunate to have got the opportunity to represent India for a long period.
“I played for around 16 to 17 years and I captained for around 10 years. What more can I ask for.”
The wristy batsman also spoke about how former Pakistan batting great Zaheer Abbas had helped him come out of a bad run of form.
“I was not sure about being selected for the Pakistan tour in 1989 as I was struggling badly for form. I remember in Karachi Zaheer bhai came to the ground to watch us practice. He asked me why I was getting out early. I told him my problems and he suggested I change my grip a bit.”
“Since I had nothing to lose and he had come himself to the ground and gave me this advice I said why not give it a try.
“The moment I changed my grip I felt more comfortable and confident and started playing freely. Eventually it also helped me become a more aggressive batsman.”
Azharuddin said when he saw Younis Khan struggling for runs in England in 2016 he felt bad.
“In India you get to watch every match on television. He looked ungainly in his batting and I felt bad that such a good batsman should play such way. I knew him so I called him up and advised him to stay in the crease and try to play close to the body from inside the crease.
“I am just happy he took my advice just like I did with Zaheer bhai and went on to score a double century in the final Test at the Oval. I am good friends with him.”
Speaking about his fielding, Azharuddin said it was a result of rigorous practice.
“I made it a point not to put on weight because when you put on a few extra pounds you can’t field properly and comfortably. If you want to be an outstanding fielder and catcher then you have to enjoy fielding as much as you do bowling or batting. I always wanted the ball to come to me. I was also good at reading the batsmen and made sure I positioned myself where a good batsman is likely to score,” he said.
Azharuddin also reiterated that he was ready for a coaching role if the right coaching opportunity came his way. In the interview, he also spoke about promoting Tendulkar to open the batting, the India-Pakistan rivalry in World Cup editions and touched upon Babar Azam’s future, who he felt can be one of Pakistan’s greatest.