Today, after the Central Bureau of Investigation released
its report on
matchfixing, Azhar is a national villain. A hero gone all wrong. The man who
heralded Indian cricket to its pinnacle with resounding victories also
plunged India to its most horrendous defeats. Today, he faces the worst
crisis of his life as he fends and ducks his way out of various allegations
So, what went wrong with the artiste who flirted with the
crease everytime he walked out into the middle, created strokes
which were once described by Vivian Richards as 'frisk,frisk,frisk' with
those supple wrists?
"Take the bat away from him and he is
clueless, completely gullible," says a former team-mate.
Where is the Hyderabadi genius? Where is that
"The real Azhar is lost forever. This is someone else."
Words damp with tears, a voice cracking with disbelief, a friend in
On a lazy Sunday afternoon, I browse through dusty
magazines and photographs which painted a humble genesis of the former
skipper's career at his friend Upendranath's home in Vithalwadi, where Azhar
spent his childhood.
Uppi, as his friends know him, a table tennis player of
repute in Hyderabad, has probably every magazine and newspaper, which has an
article, or even a reference to Azhar, in his collection.
"I dreamt someday that I would have an exhibition of my
collection, but that seems like an unfulfilled dream with the CBI report," he says.
"Azzubaba is the best friend I have. How could he have done
this?" asks Uppi.
"I know him since 1981when we used to cycle to the grounds. My association
with Azhar goes back to the days when he was a clerk at the
State Bank of India and drew a paltry 800 rupees as salary. I forced him to
appear for his B Com final year exam, so that he would get a raise in his
"I remember the day he came to me and said he had got a
raise of Rs.250 and that his salary was 1,000 rupees. I still remember
that moment,that proud smile Azzubaba flashed at me."
Uppi recalls that Azhar's life then revolved around
cricket, namaaz and his home.
He was the area's most shy resident, not lured by the
distractions that came with the stardom he achieved after
becoming the first and only batsman to score three consecutive Test
centuries on debut in the game's history.
After Azhar became India's captain in 1990, his Hyderabad
team-mates say, his interests drifted. The man, who only bought health and
sports magazines, suddenly showed an interest in film glossies.
His only brush with showbiz until then had been when he
modeled for an advertisement along with a lady named Sangeeta
"We teased him about that when he returned after the shoot.
He said he didn't even bother much since the flashbulbs were blazing
away, blinding him in the process, " said an old friend.
Did Azhar's brush with glamour alter his value system,
"Ever since (Sangeeta) Bijlani came into his life,
he has lost all his friends. She is the cause for his current fate," claims Samyuddin Saajid,
his first cousin, who still lives in Vithalwadi.
"That woman's greed transformed a gem of a man into a
villain. Azharbhai is earning so much, why would he need to do all this. Itna
kamaa rahe hai unney modeling se, kya jaroorat hai unko yeh sab kaama mein padne
ki (He was earning a pile from modeling, what need was there for him to do
all these things)?" asks his cousin.
Remembers Venkatapathy Raju, his former India team-mate, "I
noticed that Azhar's lifestyle changed a lot after 1995. He started frequenting Bombay and
was struck by the glamour. The man who would normally retire at nine was at
parties well past midnight."
Arshad Ayub, another former team-mate and current Hyderabad
coach, felt Azhar has always been na´ve. "Azzu could be influenced very
easily. Early on in his career he was in awe of Ravi
Shastri. The way Shastri carried himself, behaved, had a
major impact on Azhar in his early days. I, however, don't believe he is involved in
Divorcing Naureen was the biggest
mistake of his life," says Chamundeshwarath, the former Andhra captain
who was once one of Azhar's closest friends.
"I fell out with Azhar after he got involved with Sangeeta.
I was so close to
Naureen. I asked Azhar how he could dream of disowning
Naureen. But Azhar wouldn't budge. He asked me not to interfere in his
personal life," says Chamundeshwarnath.
"Azhar was in a complete trance. That is why his game was
affected so badly (on the England tour). He seemed out of sorts. Facing a
vituperative press and his family's disapproval, Azhar just went into his
shell," says Upendranath.
Five years after the divorce, Naureen gave into her mother's
pressure and tied
the knot again. She married a Canada-based real-estate
businessman a few months ago.
Those who know Azhar claim Chamundi introduced him to the
glitz. Chamundi denies this. "I know people think I am a pimp. But let me
tell you Azhar is not a kid. I can't force someone to do something.
Baccha nahi hai woh (he is not a kid). If I took Azhar onto the
wrong path, then why would I still be close to Naureen? I am the only person
from Hyderabad who went for her wedding. She is like a sister to me."
Azhar has a reputation in his home city of being a charitable and
generous man. Asks Chamundi: "What sort of a guy would give away 10,000, 15,
000 rupees to anyone who approached him for help without knowing his
antecedents? Every time he came to the ground in Hyderabad for practice with
the team he would tell the most promising cricketer to pick any equipment
from his kit.
Upendranath says Azhar's generosity sent many Muslims for
Hajj. "His father would tell him that the people asking for help were just
milking him. Yet, Azhar would say Allah had bestowed so much on him and
maybe this was the way he wanted the
But this image is disputed by Brother Chacko of the All
Saints High School,
Azhar's first school.
The school's students collected Rs 10,000 to present Azhar
when he first made his mark on Test cricket. He accepted Rs 5,000 and
returned the rest to the school. Today, interest on that amount is awarded
as the Mohammad Azharuddin Scholarship to the
school's most outstanding sportsman of the year.
But Brother Chacko says Azhar has not helped the school in
any other way.
"The only times we saw him was when he came for admissions
for his friends's
children. The school coach is upset with him. He has been
for some financial assistance for the cricket club. Time
and again, only promises
have been forthcoming, no concrete help."
Brother Joseph, Azhar's cricket mentor, was in shock when
he read newspaper accounts about the CBI report. "Azhar on his own is unable
of doing such a thing, unless there are extraneous forces working on him. I
want to ask him myself. I guess when money comes in, it changes everything.
Azhar has been this honest boy who could do no wrong. How could his honesty
wear out like it was a pair of old gloves?"
Was it indecision or extraneous influence?
"Azhar is one of the most indecisive men I have ever met.
There was a time when
he didn't know his bank balance. He is a son every mother
obedient and disciplined. He would issue blank cheques to
his parents, providing them with everything they asked for," says one of his
After 1995, Azhar became more arrogant towards the press,
than anyone had ever known him to be. He would quote
unrealistic amounts for media interviews, seek monetary gains
in everything he did. There was something amiss.
"The Azhar we know was a soft-spoken, simple man. He never
had a harsh word
to tell anyone. He was shy and not outgoing at all. Azhar
was very uneasy as
captain. He wanted to come across as an authoritative and
but it is not in his nature to be like that," recalls
Azhar's life changed forever after disgraced South African
skipper Hansie Cronje revealed before the King Commision that the Indian
cricketer had introduced him to alleged bookie M K Gupta.
"He kept asking during the King Commission hearings whether
Cronje's statements would be believed in India. He would defend Cronje,
saying he was
being framed. On another occasion he would keep arguing
about why the VDIS (Voluntary Disclosure of Income Scheme)
issue was being played up. He said it would be unethical
government to name those who disclosed unaccounted money,"
says one of Azhar's
Today, Azhar is a prisoner in his home, in his native city.
"He has been writing notes to himself, scribbling random thoughts over the
past few days. He has rediscovered his faith again. Not long ago, Azhar
became careless about saying his prayers and missed his Friday prayers. All
that has changed now," recounts a close friend.
Upendranath went to meet Azhar a few days ago.
"I went to meet him after the report was out because I
could not sleep that night. He told me to relax. "Kuch
nahi kiya main. Sab teek ho jayenga, (I have not done anything. Everything
will be okay.)"
"We sat down on the floor for dinner and he said, "Uppi,
apni woh zindagi acchi thi cyclewali. Bahut yaad aati hai. (Our old
life was good, the times we
went cycling. I really miss that.)"
Everything might have turned out differently. But then.
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