Azharuddin : Book Extract

Azharuddin : Book Extract

Post by Aditya Bhuwani » Fri, 27 Jan 1995 01:10:47

Muqaddar Ka Sikandar -- Bhogle, Harsha

India`s most successful cricket captain is a  great  believer  in
fate  and  destiny.  And  it is these qualities that give him the
ability to take success and failure philosophically.

If Azhar the batsman had been almost universally  admired,  Azhar
the  captain has always played to mixed reviews. Indeed for a ma-
jor part of his carrer, he had been at the receiving end, ducking
and  weaving  from the barrage. The `intellgentsia` condemned him
early on and it seemed that Azhar had got stuck to  that   image.
Yet,  the point escaped many that Azhar was only leading the team
in away conditions where no Indian captain  had  produced   great
results.  Gavaskar,  who  was acknowledged as a cerebral captain,
only produced two away wins including one as  a  stand-in-captain
in   New  Zealand in 1976.  And Kapil Dev only had the series win
in England in 1986.  Indeed, had Azhar lost the captaincy   after
the  South  African tour,  his captaincy record would have looked
like it needed some cosmetic help  with   one   win   and   seven
losses   from  seven***  matches.   Six*** of those were played
away. But since his second coming in the series against  England,
he  has led India in  eleven Test matches (one of those was aban-
doned after only 49 minutes  of  playing  time)  producing  eight
wins.  And his home record  as  captain  is  really  unique.  In-
dia has won all eight matches with him in  charge  and  seven  of
those  have  been  innings  wins. Can a nation ask for more?  But
Bishen Bedi still feels that Azhar was never cut  to  be  a  cap-
tain.  "Don`t  mistake  me, for I think he is a terrific team man
and a brilliant cricketer. But he was never captaincy material. I
told  the  selectors  when they appointed him to New Zealand that
they had already made a mistake and they should not compound   it
by making another and sacking him. I insisted that he get the job
for all the three tours that I got. But I am still not  convinced
that  he  is  captaincy  material. For a long time, he used to be
terribly uncommunicative, holding opinions but  supressing  them.
Also,   he  is  not  a  great psychologist, he doesn`t believe in
cricket theories and doesn`t read books,  for  example.  And  his
basic   approach  to  the game,  which is that each person should
understand his job, is all right when you are  just  one  of  the
boys,  not  when you are in charge of leading ten or fif*** oth-
ers." Raj Singh agrees with Bedi but  believes  that  Azhar   has
served  his apprenticeship  and is now ready to be captain of the
Indian team for a long time. "He took very little  time   to   be
a  good batsman. But he`s taken a long time to become a good cap-
tain." Azhar is somewhat  confused  by  this  great  debate  over
his  leadership  qualities.  And  by the fact that people seem to
analyse things so carefully. "I don`t understand  all  this,"  he
said   once  with  a strange smile playing on his lips. "When the
team loses, I am a bad captain.  When it wins, I am suddenly very
good.  I  seem to  be  changing  faster than i know! The truth is
I don`t under- stand how one player can be responsible  for   the
fortunes   of  a team  like this. Actually everythings depends on
the kind of sup- port a team gives to  a  captain.  If  everybody
cooperates,   it   is  not  very  difficult. But there are situa-
tions where somebody in- tentionaly creates trouble.  In  such  a
situation  there  is  very little  a captain can do.  Therfore, I
find this great analysis of captaincy a  little  funny.  Finally,
you have to see how  the  team is  doing.  The captain is only as
good as his team allows him to be." Ajit Wadekar, who  was  prob-
ably  seen   Azhar  more  closely  than anyone  else, thinks that
he has come a long way as a captain.  "I don`t  agree  with  this
theory about people not being  born to  be captains.  There is no
truth in that. Nobody is born to lead. You have to become a  cap-
tain.  You  have  to grow into  the job  and  I think  Azhar  has
improved a lot. The important thing about cap- taincy is  whether
you  can  carry  ten  others  with you  and  I  have noticed that
Azhar has a lot of respect from his team.  Only  some-  times  he
gets  stuck  with  a  few people and needs  to  be  reminded that
there  is  a  complete  team to look after.  Tiger was like that.
Everybody  said  he was the greatest captain  India  had.  He had
his  own  little  group and that went against him. Sometimes that
is  what  i fear with Azhar. But he is such a simple and love- ly
person that everyone likes him and that is part of the success of
being  a  captain."  Wadekar  is  bang on target with  that  last
point.  The  Indian team,  to  a man, respects Azhar for the kind
of  person he is and in private conversation, they have often ex-
pressed their admira- tion  for  him. This  respect  often  holds
them together and one of Azhar`s greatest achievements as captain
over four years  is  to prevent the formation of  groups  in  the
Indian  team.   Taleneted  teams  of the past often suffered from
this as indeed did  Pakistan  when  they   had  some  outstanding
cricketers but no team. A team needs to pull in one direction and
under  Azhar,  it has done largely that.  I remember Javagal Sri-
nath  telling me of his first meeting with Azharuddin.  It was at
Bangalore in the Duleep Trophy of 1989-90  when  Azhar  had  just
taken  the  captaincy  of South Zone after Srik- kanth  had opted
out. Srinath had made his first class debut that year and  had  a
hattrick  against  Hyderabad.  He  had  picked  up wick- ets con-
sistently and was put into the South Zone team for the  Du-  leep
Trophy. But Azhar had never met Srinath, let alone seen him bowl,
because the Indian team had been playing in Sharjah, in  the  MRF
World  Series and in Pakistan.  "I went and introduced  myself to
him."  Srinath recalls. "I was actually quite nervous because  it
was my first year and Azhar was such a big name. But he  spoke so
nicely to me and I felt very good after  that.  I  suddenly  felt
more relaxed and I thought if he can speak so nicely to me I  can
do anything for him." Navjot Sidhu and Vinod Kambli have  similar
stories   to  tell.  During  the series  against Sri Lanka, Azhar
had made his disap- pointment clear with Sidhu in his column  be-
cause   he  felt  Sidhu had thrown  away  his wicket after reach-
ing his century. `Oh, he was mad at me," he said.  "But  that  is
what  I  like   about   Azhar- bhai,  Sab  khulla khulla hota hai
(Everything is open). You know when he says something to you that
is  what he means.  Aisa nahin ke  mooh  pe ek bolo aur peeche ek
karo (He doesn`t say one thing and  do  something  else).  To  be
honest,  I  have not met another per- son like him in this game."
And in Sri Lanka after one of Kambli`s temper shows  Azhar   took
aside  the  young  man  who a lot of people think is `difficult`.
"Rememeber in the end people will look at you depending  on   the
kind   of  person  you are.  You may be the best cricketer in the
world but if you are not a good human being, you will  never  get
any  respect.  With  your batting, you have the world in front of
you. But you can ruin it all by your behavior." Kambli came  away
suitably  chastised  but  remembered  the incident well enough to
narrate it a few months later.  It is almost certain that no oth-
er  cricketer  in India,  whether in  1990  or  1994, would evoke
the same feelings. Indian cricket has always been  in  danger  of
being  split into  groups  and  under Azhar  such  a  catastrophe
has been avoided. In most other coun- tries  this  may  not  have
been  a  major factor but  the  reality  of India  is  such  that
being a man of piece is probably the most essential ingredient in
a  leader.  He now has to temper the `man of peace` role with be-
ing an  ag- gressive  leader  of  men.  It is going to be a  dif-
ficult  job  and that is from where I suspect Azhar`s problems as
captain are  go- ing  to  come.  His  teammates  have  said  they
want  a Captain Stork in charge and while, temperamentally, Azhar
isn`t totaly  Captain Log,  he is happiest underplaying his role.
As  a  result, the role of the aggressive captain is going to re-
quire him to behave in  a manner  that  does  not  come naturally
to him. It will be sad if that distances him from the team, which
to some extent is inveit- able, because it was being one of  them
that  his greatest strength lay.  But that is the realm of tomor-
row. If there is one thing Indian cricket   teaches  you,  it  is
never  to  expect  tomorrow to be a lit- tle like today.  When Mr
Vajehuddin told his adoring grandson that he  might even   become
captain  of  India  one day, people hoped it would happen without
really expecting it to. After four years and  twenty-eight   Test
matches   in charge, there is no Mr Vajehuddin around to read out
the future to him.  And so, like us he must wait to see what  the
future   holds  for him.  To understand Azhar is also the breathe
the air of his city, to drink the water of Gandipet, as they  say
in  Hyderabad.   It  is  a charming city with a most delightfully
unhurried air to it.   A city where ambition  left  its  nemesis,
satisfaction  behind  and  moved towards another civilization. To
the  average  Hydera- badi,  time  is something  to  be  savored,
not  lost  to the dizzying speed of modern life. He`s a left lane
man, the Hyderabadi, driv- ing his scooter contentedly while  the
limousines  hurry  past.   He cannot, for example, understand the
fulfilment that the Bom- bayman  gets  in scrambling  abroad  the
6:18  fast from Churchgate, his left foot perennially aspiring to
be ahead of his  right.  Or that obsessive, all-encompassing urge
to get 99.3 per cent in the optionals in the 12th standard.  He`d
much rather  let  a  crowded bus  go   by  and  continue  talking
about Maduri Dixit in Tezaab. Or better still, walk across to the
Irani restaurant on  the  corner and  chat  over a bun-muska  and
one-by-two  chai (tea). On a good day, he would order a pauna in-
stead.  Again one-by-two.  The Hyderabadi is  invariably,  there-
fore,  a  satisfied  man.  Even laid  back.  He is more likely to
aspire for happiness and having got  it,  to  share  it.  At  his
daughter`s  wedding   he  would  invite the  entire community  to
a  lavish biryani and  baghara  baingan  (egg-plant)  meal,  most
probably  in an open yard, rather  than  to just  an ice-cream in
a classy five star hotel. To him that  would  be  impersonal.  It
wouldn`t be symbolic of his daughter`s wedding.  He is more like-
ly to be polite and unassuming. And you will  al- ways be aap  to
him; occasionaly tum but never tu.  That would be sacrilege. Or a
concession made  to  someone   very  close.   Correspondingly  he
would be greatly  offended  if  somebody  ad- dressed him his tu.
The nawabs always said aap and the Hyderabadi has kept the tradi-
tion  alive.   You  will  see  a  lot of these characteristics in
Azhar.  The  pol- iteness,  the hospitality and  the  simplicity.
But  most  important the inability to be caluclating and devious.
When  some  of  his teammates desired  something  other  than the
best  for  the side; when often they placed their interests above
that  of  the  side, sometimes  in  conflict  to it, he was  baf-
fled  and speechless.  He did not know how to react but in  keep-
ing  with  the culture  he comes  from  he  chose  to keep  quiet
about  it.  "Yes, people have tried to harm me," he  says.  "They
really tried.   They  acted against  me  and   sometimes,  inten-
tionally  did not cooperate with me." But there is no vendetta in
his mind,  just  a  deep  belief that  someone  who   does  wrong
will  repent. "Those people who are acting against me, they could
fool me but they cannot fool  some- body  up there.   Today  they
must  be  repenting.  I  can tell you, if they had not done that,
somebody else would have been captain  of India   today.  But  if
you  try  to  do some harm to somebody, you are bound to repent."
For a man so caught up in a world that seems to belong  to   yes-
terday, Azhar has done tremendously well for himself. Many others
didn`t.  Their desires were  tame  not  ferocious, their   vision
blurred   by   the   idyllic world they lived in.  Success wasn`t
the aphrodisiac to them that it is to others and  they  did  not,
there-  fore,  have the determination to keep clawing against the
odds.  Not surprisingly, Hyderabad has produced very few  heroes,
not  just in sports but in walk of life that demands grits. There
have been very few people about whom success  stories  like  this
one  can  be  written.  Sarojini Naidu was one of them. A freedom
fighter but more fam- iliar perhaps as a poet.  "You  dont  know,
Bapu,  how  much  it costs us to keep you poor," she once said to
Mahatma  Gandhi.  And  her "Palanquin  Bearers" features  in  al-
most every anthology of Indian poetry. Almost every Indian school
boy  has  grown  up recting:  Lightly,  O  lightly  we  bear  her
along,/  She  sways  like  a flower in the wind of our song;/ She
skims like a bird on the  foam  of  a stream,/ She floats like  a
laugh  on  the  lips  of  a dream.  But none of these people have
stirred  the  country  like   Azhar  has.   And   yet,  the  fact
remains that one can remember the city`s success stories on one`s
fingertips shows how  little  Hyderabad has  contributed  to  the
national  achievement  pool. Frequently, an atmosphere of success
acts as a seed to more achievement  and  in Hyderabad, Azhar  did
not  have  it.  As another eminent Hyderabadi, the celebrated ad-
vertising professional Mohammad Khan who  had  a role  in  start-
ing Rediffusion and Contract before he set up his own agency, En-
terprise, says "Hyderabad is for people who want to  get   up  at
nine  in  the  morning,  stroll into the office and have a cup of
tea. It`s not for someone with fire in his belly. I`d  give  any-
thing   to be able to live there but in the profession i am in, I
think I`ll go mad if I did." There can be little doubt that Azhar
is now Hyderabad`s biggest achiever.  And  yet,  he cannot under-
stand the rush for the 6:18 from Churchgate either.  He is  ambi-
tious  but without the ruthless- ness  and  the clinical approach
that goes with it. His colleague Venkatapathy Raju is a bit  like
that  too.  But  where Azhar differs from others,  apart from the
extra helping of talent that he was rewarded, is in  his  ability
to  take pressure. He spoke of not be- ing  scared of failure and
that has perhaps allowed him to remain calm in  tense  situations
and to keep his  head  when all  around people are losing theirs.
And today,  more  than ever  before,   Hyderabad   witnessing   a
tremendous financial boom, the city needs a role model. Hyderabad
cricket for sure, is looking for Azhar to be that role model.  So
far   they  have been disappointed. In cricket circles there is a
sadness, a feeling that Azhar has been  lost  to  Indian  cricket
forever.   So,  will  Mohammad Azharuddin become a father figure?
The senior pro who inspires a whole generation  to  take  up  the
game? It seems a little far fetched now given that he still has a
few years  in the  game,  but personally I suspect he  will  find
it  difficult to return to the grassroots. Already Azhar mentions
his  desire  to set  up  a  little  cricket school of his own  in
Hyderabad. If he does, apart from learning to go down to the lev-
el of a youngster, he will also have to learn about how to handle
a  business.   At the moment, he is quite disastrous at it, given
his  intrin- sically  trusting nature. He had once set up a hotel
in Bangalore which seemed to be doing reasonably well.  Too  late
to  discover that  it was only his partner  who  was  making  the
profits.  He  then took a stake in a Pepsi bottling franchise and
ended  up  loosing money  there  too.  "I`m  through  with  busi-
ness,"  he  said at that stage. "I will not touch a business ven-
ture unless I am doing  it with  my  closest friends,"   he  said
and I have often understood why. Throughout the period I was han-
dling the financial  side  of his  columns, he never  once  asked
how much money I was making out of them and what percentage I was
giving him. We  had  informally discussed a percentage earlier on
and  he  said  "Okay,  whatever you think is right." In course of
time, he began to realize what he  was worth  and  when   he  re-
ceived  interesting  offers  from syndicates, he actually started
telling me the figure he wanted. It surprised me initial- ly  be-
cause  I didn`t believe he would ever sit down to discuss a deal.
He is still disastrous at managing money and is lucky   that   he
has  trusted  friends and his father to help him out. And for his
new outwardly tough image, he would still make a rather  gullible
businessman. For his attitude to money is most unlike that of any
other Indian cricketer. "Even today, if someone asked me to  play
free  because  he  had a problem, I would. After all, it would be
just another game for me. If I can help him, why not?" He  spends
lavishly now, almost as easily as he plays  his  leg- side shots,
and to see him outside a cricket ground is to  see  an  array  of
brand names. There is little doubt that Azhar is now an extremely
rich man but he carries his wealth well;  not  like  a  re-  tail
store mannequin desperate to  attract  attention  but in  a rath-
er  more  understated and dignified manner.  Almost  like  he  is
aware that he is a successful man worthy of emulation.  "You must
have `class` in everything that  you do,"  he  keeps  saying  and
you realize that the word is a particular favourite of his. It is
most apparent that when he is  buying  gifts  for   his  friends.
The  price tags do not matter then, but the brand names do. It is
quite amazing how well he has adapted to life of plenty given  he
didn`t  have too much to start with. Those who move up the social
ladder as quickly as young cricketers do  these  days, often drag
their past with them. Their lifestyles rarely catch up with their
income. It`s been quite the other way with Azhar whose  lifestyle
threatens  to  explode sometimes.  He has a great collec- tion of
clothes and shoes, almost always brought in England,  and an  al-
most  maniacal weakness for watches. It is unlikely even he knows
at any given time how many he has.  We discussed this issue  fre-
quently.  "Aren`t  you  worried  about your  lifestyle?" I  often
asked him, fearing for his rainy day.   "You  know,  when  i  was
young,  I  never  had too much money to spend.  But  I  was happy
with  what I had. Now I have some money and I would like to  live
well.   Tomorrow,  if I have to go  back  to  my old lifestyle, I
am prepared for that." But  for  all  the  visible  trappings  of
wealth  and  materialism,  he  remains  an  extremely simple  and
God fearing human being deep down. In his hotel room, amidst  the
Ralph  Laurens   and  the  Ree- boks,  at  a distance, and always
on a pedastal, lie a mat, a cap and a  lungi,  the  common  man`s
prayer  kit.  He  prays  five   times   a  day whenever  he  can,
doesn`t  touch liquor and cigarettes and won`t eat meat unless he
is sure it his `halal`. As a result, in countries like England or
Australia, he was part of the vegetari- an brigade  of  Srikkanth
and  Anil Kumble.  Religion, in fact has been a calming influence
in  his  life.  When he feels threatened, it cocoons him from the
world  and  gives him solace and the courage to get on with life.
It isn`t a crutch as most people believe it  to  be  but  a  very
close and special com- panion.  In  Australia,  and  particularly
during  the interval between  the  tour  and  the World  Cup,  he
stayed alone and asked himself a lot of questions. His  faith  in
God allowed  him  to answer his questions frankly and  present  a
more  confident  look  to  the  world.  He once told me long ago,
"Scoring runs  isn`t  in  my hands.  If   He  desires  me  to  do
well, nothing can prevent me from doing so. And if He has decided
it is not my time, there is noth- ing I can do about  it.  All  I
have  to  do  is to try my best." A more western work culture, or
closer home  as  it  exists  in Bombay  tends  to   dismiss  such
feelings  as fatalistic and as be- traying a weak and unambitious
mind. But they do  not  understand the  bond he shares  with  his
religion.  They  do not understand too that he has been shaped by
his religious  and  m*** beliefs  as clearly  and  sharply as a
potter shapes a piece of clay; and ir- respective of the religion
a man practices, his faith with always lead him along  the  right
path.

Thanks: Sports World 14-27 Dec 94