Why me?, asks Azhar
The life and times of Mohammad Azharuddin have been chronicled
many times before, with a new chapter being added to his journey
in life each time. The artiste among artisans has been embroiled
in many controversies: captaincy, his place in the team, his
personal life, brushes with the press, and now the most sensational
of them all -- betting and match-fixing.
At the age of 34, the man who made a successful comeback into
the Indian team in the Asia Cup here, is remarkably unfazed with
all that is happening around him. His persona hides the tension,
if any, and one of the most outstanding batsmen of world cricket
denies the allegations of his connection with the world of bookies
and betting with a shrug of his shoulders and laughs derisively
at the 'rumours' that he is the owner of half a dozen Mercedes
Benz cars and a number of houses in Mumbai and his hometown, Hyderabad.
"Who says I have so many cars? This is utter nonsense. All
I have is a Mercedes sports car and a 1938 vintage car presented
to me by my uncle. Why do people spread all these malicious rumours
about me?" Azharuddin lets these words slip out of his mouth
without any anger or bitterness, while enjoying a very frugal breakfast
in the coffee shop of his hotel in Colombo.
"I am a man who loves the good things of life. Have you ever
seen me dressed shabbily? I love to dress properly, buy expensive
clothes. My earning is not bad, and if I earn $ 100 I love to spend
it also. I like to live in style. Is there anything wrong in that?
Allah has been kind to me. But my lifestyle should not be misconstrued
as if I have wealth far in excess of my earnings," Azharuddin
speaks in a mater of fact tone.
As he shells a boiled egg and eats only the white portion, Azharuddin
smiles and as though anticipating the question, says: "I had to
be careful with my diet. I am not getting any younger, and to keep
myself fit, I have to take care about what I eat and what not."
He is still in the midst of his sentence when a small boy walks
up to the table and asks him for a ticket for Saturday's final
against Sri Lanka. Azharuddin tells him to wait till the evening
as "I do not have any tickets with me at the moment."
After watching the boy return to his table, Azharuddin looks at
you blankly for a second and then waits for another question to
be hurled at him.
If such rumours have got credence, one reason possibly could be
his alienation from the press. It is to such an extent that he
refused to talk to them; particularly, after the Bangalore incident
in 1996 when he was alleged to have beaten up a photographer who
had clicked his picture with his then actress-friend and present
wife, Sangeeta Bijlani. "I felt hurt at the way the entire
press reacted to that incident. I did not touch that photographer.
I told him not to click us but he did not listen. Despite that,
I have never touched him. But the entire press supported him and
painted me as a villain. That was the reason why I decided to
keep my distance from the press,"is Azharuddin's explanation.
He cites more reasons for his cutting himself off from the media:
"I couldn't understand why, when a press conference was on,
newsmen oculd not ask me what they had in mind. There were times
when not even one question was asked. But once I would enter my
hotel room, there would be phone calls after phone calls seeking
my reaction to one question or the other. I thought this was not
right. Here was I, willing to sit even, for hours in a press conference
as long as I was asked anything, so that I could have a private
moment or two."
Azharuddin says he felt very disappointed when he was dropped
after the West Indies tour. "I do agree I was not doing all
that well. But I got out a number of times to unplayable balls
and by the end of the tour, I was getting my touch back. I don't
blame the selectors for dropping me but I wanted to be part of
the Independence Cup, as it was being held to celebrate 50 years
of our Independence."
But wasn't his attitude during that tour very wrong? Didn't he
appear very indifferent towards the team? And did he not breach
the Board discipline by keeping his wife with him till the end
of the tour?
"There was nothing wrong with my attitude. I have always
been like that. I make no show of my emotions. And when you are
standing in the slips, it is difficult to make a show of giving
suggestions to your captain. And especially, when the captain
was standing next to me most of the times. As far as breach of
discipline is concerned, I would like to say that the press once again
wrote without checking their facts. I had taken permission from
the Board, which they confirmed later," says Azharuddin without
any signs of agitation.
Azharuddin has another point to clarify about that tour. "People
wrote that I was very keen to go to New York after the tour ended
so that my wife and I could so shopping. Whereas the truth is
that most of the team members were keen to go to New York, and
not me. This can be checked with the manager of the team. I have
been to such places umpteen number of times and as such it held
no novelty for me. Why I want to clarify this point is that the press
always tries to paint a very different picture of me from what
I actually am."
On the tour here so far, Azharuddin has been seen taking more
than passing interest in the fortunes of the team. He has been
seen actively advising Tendulkar on field placements and on bowling
changes. Is this change of attitude because he sees the possibility
of captaincy coming his way once again?
"I won't lose my sleep over it. It is only because I have
not been standing in the slips and am fielding in the outfield
that you get the impression that I am involving myself more with
the fortunes of the team. I have always been like that," he says
One asks him two more questions. How long does he think he can
play, and any regrets when he looks back at his career?
"I give msyelf two to three years more. Yes, I have one regret.
I should have scored more runs in Test cricket than I have till
now, maybe 6,000 runs. But my career has been like that. It has
fertile patches and barren patches. I have had long stretches
of successes as well as failures. That is how life is. One has
to get on with it."
It is time to take leave of Azharuddin.
This article being reproduced courtesy Pioneer newspaper