Muhammad Azhar-ud-din from Hyderabad, with three successive centuries in his initial three Tests, is already the boy wonder of the international game. West Indian Everton Weekes made five centuries in successive Tests, while his compatriot Clyde Walcott made five centuries in a five-Test series, but not in succession.
Jack Fingleton made four in a row. But they and others did so later in their careers. For that matter, Sunil Gavaskar too. To achieve what no batsman in history has done—including the immortals—it must be heady for one who celebrated his 22nd birthday (born February 8, 1963) three days after the final Test in Kanpur.
In Bangalore, the day after the limited-overs international, Muhammad Azhar-ud-din sat in his hotel room, his bags packed, awaiting the transport to take him to the airport. He was busy watching tennis on video—John McEnroe vs. Borg. His ‘roomie’ was medium-pace bowler Rajinder Singh Ghai.
Ghai never sat still. He answered the phone, made the tea, and checked the lockers to ensure that nothing was left behind. Azharuddin sat watching the screen. But he was again all attention when the questions began. About his family, he said, I’m the eldest of six, four brothers, and two sisters. My father is an accounts officer in the Electricity Board and my mother is just a housewife.’ There is nothing very impressive about the background of one who has made two centuries in successive Test matches, one thought.
Muhammad Azhar-ud-din is 5ft 11ins tall. He has a bachelor’s degree in commerce and confesses readily: ‘I wasn’t a good student. In fact, I am not interested in books of any kind. I was lucky to get through my examinations.’ How did his astonishing cricket career start? For one thing, he is clear in his mind that nobody coached him. ‘There was a brother (the Silesian type) in school who taught me the basics like he taught so many other boys.
It was not something very special. I suppose I did show some ability. I went up in the game like so many others.’ He played for Hyderabad Schools between 1977 and ’79. South Zone Schools he represented in 1977 but was not called for in subsequent seasons. He played for Osmania University from 1980 to 1983. Representing South Zone in the Vizzy Trophy, he scored 245 against West Zone. He attended a couple of coaching camps, the first conducted by the Hyderabad CA under the supervision of Lala Amarnath in 1977.
In 1980, it was a South Dune camp. But he confesses: ‘There was nothing new that I learned.’ Azhar-ud-din’s unique qualities might even be considered strange. He never seemed to be excited about being interviewed. He was far from overawed. He had his wits about him and listened to every question keenly before coming up with a reply. ‘How long I stay in the middle is more important to me than the number of runs I make.
Nobody told me this. In fact, I bat from session to session. I tell myself, I have played till lunch. Now I must go on till tea. I suppose it sounds very easy. But the important thing I learned in my first test itself is that the longer one stays, the more runs one can make. One does not get too many loose totally yet. I received a telegram at lunchtime saying that he was critically ill. I could never make it. I think I made 151, my best inning till today, so that he would hear about it.
He died while I was in Ahmadabad. I miss him. I am sad that he cannot partake in my successes. And yet he seemed so detached, almost devoid of any emotion. Asked whether he got flustered when wickets fell at the other end, he said, ‘Not really. I tell myself that I have got to take as much of the strike as possible.’ He likes to relax with music—the Hindustani variety. Gazals and Qawalis too trying to take charge are far from easy. It is all right in first-class cricket.’
One knew (rather learned after talking to him) that he did not like books. What about cricket books? And his reply took everybody in the room by surprise. ‘I haven’t read a cricket book. Why should I?’ Asked if he admired anybody, or had a hero, his reply was simple: ‘No I watch great players because I like to watch them. I like Viswanath playing, and I asked Vish Bhai yesterday if I was doing okay. He told me that there was nothing wrong.
I have watched films by Viv Richards and Greg Chappell. I like Chappell more because he has such fine technique.’ Was there anybody he loved most? ‘Yes, my grandfather, who is no more. You see I was brought up by him. He was the headmaster of a college.’ He continued: ‘You know, when I was playing for the Under-25 side in Ahmadabad, I was injured before lunch on the opening day, the second finger of my right hand. The injury has not healed the better to eat you with! Because he is a Hyderabadi.
Rajinder Singh Ghai batted in, ‘Sir, he is so quiet outside. But in the room, he can be lively company.’ There was something left unsaid. I asked him about his attitude toward net practice. He has prominent front teeth — the ‘all the better to eat you with’ type — and showed them when he replied: ‘I try not to get out at net practice.’ To say that there are some striking similarities with that country boy from Bowral would be premature. But there is something about the approach that is very Brad-Manesque.
One wonders if Don Bradman ever had a hero. Whether he had read a book at the start of his career or not, Bradman, it is said, had few friends. Azharuddin does not seem to have very many. Bradman surely did not like getting out anywhere at any time. Muhammad Azhar-ud-din does not want to get out at nets. More importantly, Muhammad Azhar-ud-din has done what Bradman never did—made centuries in his initial three Tests. Muhammad Azhar-ud-din chosen as the favorite and is now beloved by all.
Source: Rajan Bala talks with Muhammad Azhar-ud-din, India’s latest gift to the world of top-class batsman ship.