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April 22, 2000
Murky doings in SharjahHarsha Bhogle with Mohammad Azharuddin
The following is excerpted from the chapter 'A bitter experience', from the book 'Azharuddin -- a biography' written by Harsha Bhogle with Azharuddin
There had been a shower on the night before the game and since the match was delayed, there was a suggestion that the number of overs be reduced. In the discussion that followed, there was a stalemate and, rather ambitiously, it was decided to go ahead with 50 overs a side. With the sun setting early in the last week of October, there was no way 100 overs could have been bowled and the most logical thing to do, especially for the cricket manager, would have been to check out what the playing conditions said in case the match could not be completed.
When about eight overs were left in the Indian innings, the light was already very bad. It had also become apparent by then that very few people seemed to be aware of what the playing conditions had to say in such an event. Certainly the media was unaware and so was Sanjay Manjrekar who was keeping India's challenge alive in the middle. At Sharjah the press box is immediately adjacent to the players' pavilion and you can in fact have a long conversation. When eight overs were left, Azhar asked me what the comparative scores were. India were marginaly ahead at that stage but were lower in terms of the run rate since Pakistan's last over had produced almost twenty runs. A stage had come therefore where if the match was called off and the scores were compared, India would be ahead. If however the match were to be decided on run rate, Pakistan would be winners. The irony amidst all this was that both teams were to contest the final on the 25th and so the result really didn't matter.
By the time the 45th over was being bowled, the streetlights had started to come on and Pakistan had Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis bowling like they had a mission to fulfill. By now there was complete chaos in the players' pavilion. Asif Iqbal was running around trying to sort out the issue with Madhavrao Scindia, the president of the Indian cricket board, Ashok Mankad the cricket manager of the Indian team and Azharuddin, who was looking extremely disturbed. Amidst all this, the Sri Lankan umpire offered the light to the Indian batsmen and Manjrekar peered around almost as if he were trying to spot the dressing room. There was of course no answer forthcoming, and the batsmen batted on with only a very approximate idea of where the ball was coming from.
Azhar says he wanted to call his batsmen back but was prevented from doing so by his manager. It was the most obvious decision to make because there was a genuine fear of injury to either Manjrekar or More given that neither Wasim nor Waqar were willing to bowl an inch slower. Strangely, their decision to bowl flat out, and the permission to do so from their captain in the kind of light in which mothers call children back home from their game, escaped censure completely.
India finished their 50 overs wtih no loss of life, which was a credit considering that the helmets of the batsmen didn't have torches like miners' helmets do. An absolutely baffling conversation had gone on and it showed the Indian management as a dithering set of people. Azhar says he was not allowed to take his decision and the end result was a great deal of chaos, an equal amount of bad blood all round and a tremendous shot in the arm for Pakistan.
In the final, they just blew India aside and Azhar collected his second duck in successive matches. Aqib Javed picked up an all LBW hat-trick and there was outrage in India at the quality of Sri Lankan umpiring. It was not entirely without basis because while confusion had reigned in the earlier match, I had asked the reserve umpire what the verdict would be if the match were to be called off immediately. "I don't know, I will have to check the playing conditions," he said, and I could have collapsed. And of those three LBWs, Azhar confirmed that he had played the ball and had in fact got a pretty strong nick. "As I have said before, once the umpire gives his verdict it doesn't matter what the truth is," he said. "But on this occasion, I'll tell you, I definitely played the ball and in any case, it wouldn't have gone to mid on otherwise!"
The four monkeys
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