The Azhar that I want to remember

Written by  //  July 14, 2011  //  Sport  //  6 Comments

A few weeks back, Rob Smyth paid tribute in Guardian’s weekly cricket column, Spin, to Rob Moody (aka Robelinda2,) the man behind a truly wonderful youtube archive. As Smyth predicted, I’ve spent much of my time, since, lost in this archive, watching videos ranging from Mark Waugh’s delectable century against Pakistan in 1998 at Karachi to that infamous incident at the MCG in 1981 when Sunil Gavaskar and Chetan Chauhan stormed off the ground in protest against an umpiring decision. The collection contains many other gems including Gary Sobers’s blistering double hundred, against Australia, for a Rest of the World side at the MCG in 1972; an entire Malcolm Marshall spell, showcasing his mastery over both swing and seam, against New Zealand in 1987; Mike Atherton’s gutsy, back-against-the-wall innings against a fiery Allan Donald, and South Africa at Trent Bridge in 1998; and some of Graham Thorpe’s finest innings’ – a player that I always enjoyed watching – to name but a few in a plenteous collection.

I keep coming back, though, to Mohammad Azharuddin and the six centuries of his that are featured in the archive. Growing up, Azhar was my hero; I worshipped his batting for it seemed to transcend all boundaries of artistry. Unlike Inzamam Ul Haq and Carl Hooper – two other batsmen that I particularly loved watching – Azhar wasn’t unhurried; he never seemed to have as much time to play his shots as those two. But his hands were always so quick, his wrists always sinuous and his timing invariably pristine that his batting glistened with an incomparable joyousness.

Previously, before I discovered Roblinda2’s channel, the only clips of Azhar’s batting that I’d seen on youtube were highlights of a century against New Zealand in 1998 – by no means his best – those five consecutive boundaries that he struck off Lance Klusener’s bowling at Eden Gardens in 1996, and his century at Lord’s in 1990 – the fastest ever at the ground. Now, though, thanks to this archive, I’ve watched highlights of his centuries, against England at Calcutta in 1993 and at Old Trafford in 1990; against South Africa at Kanpur in 1996; and against Australia at Calcutta in 1998 and at the Adelaide Oval in 1992 – each of them crafted not so much with care and precision as with insouciant charm.

Of them all though, I most relished watching his 182 off 197 balls at the Eden Gardens against England for there are many things cherish-worthy about this video. Henry Blofeld’s voice, for one, pervades through the clip. Every time Azhar put bat on ball, Blofeld seemed to go ballistic – not in a mindless IPL-commentary kind of way, but with more genuine, excited enthusiasm. Of course Blofeld was prone to throwing the occasional clanger in commentary, but the video serves as an excellent reminder of jollier times. Four minutes and forty two seconds into the video, there is a clip of Azhar playing a dazzling flick for a boundary, of left arm seamer Paul Taylor’s bowling, not through square-leg or midwicket, but through mid-off. Yes, a flick through MID-OFF timed to perfection that soothes your eye even as you feel for your jaw, which is rapidly descending onto the ground. Six minutes and twelve seconds into the video and Azhar caresses Taylor’s ball to the extra-cover boundary; I haven’t seen the usually laconic David Gower being more profuse in his praise – “sumptuous shot by Azharuddin,” he screams, “and Eden Gardens is going potty.”

This was a sight for the gods – Azhar, killing England ever so softly, with gentle flicks and delectable late-cuts timed and placed with astonishing purity. This is the Azhar that I want to remember. The Azhar who wielded a cricket bat like a magician would his wand. The Azhar who would cut the opposition to ribbons not violently but through sublime delicacy. The Azhar who batted like nobody else could.

Indeed, as Rohit Brijnath said in this wonderful homage, there is no justification for Azhar’s misdeeds; I surely haven’t forgiven him for them. But courtesy Robelinda2, I will now be able to transport myself to an age when Azhar batted like a dream – to watch some of his most gorgeous knocks in an endeavour, not to forget his misdeeds, but to remember what made him so prized in the first place.

6 Comments on "The Azhar that I want to remember"

  1. Vasu July 14, 2011 at 11:29 am ·

    Absolutely loved it. Many thanks for helping me watch an innings I have long wanted to. Barely remember watching the highlights in my teens.
    I was a die hard Azza fan, and its sad to see how the second half of his life has panned out. I can’t bear myself to watch his politician avatar, leave alone forgive him for his crimes.
    I wish he could rewind his life and freeze his frame some where in mid -90s, flicking and driving bowlers like only he could!

  2. Suhrith July 16, 2011 at 3:46 am ·

    Thanks for you comment, Vasu.

  3. Sandeep P July 16, 2011 at 6:27 am ·

    It’s very sad that he ended up being what he is today. If at all, there was any doubt in the minds of people if Azhar was a corrupt guy, he clarified it by joining politics.

  4. riaz August 29, 2011 at 10:12 am ·

    i am glad i ve found someone who thinks on my trems when it comes to azhar.. nothing ever in my life made me happy as when azhar strikes a century, and i ve haven felt anything more beautiful than an azhar flick, and no cricketere was more stylish and more flexible.. i miss azhu bhai of the 90’s.. and i havent had any favourite cricketer since then.. and i wont.. for i havent found anyone like him since..not even in the vicinty

  5. riyaz March 7, 2015 at 10:37 am ·

    There was no better sight in international cricket than Azharuddin in full flow…majestic batsman, majestic fielder- he was a dream

  6. Thiagaraj March 28, 2015 at 12:16 pm ·

    No one play like an Azar in critical and needed situations.he always made 30+ constantly.

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