Hyderabad: In 1985, a lean and tall Hyderabad batsman took world cricket by storm with three centuries in his first three matches against England. He was hailed as God’s gift for his sheer magical and wristy performance with the willow. On back of this dream come true debut series, Mohammad Azharuddin flew to Australia for the Benson and Hedges one-day championship. All eyes were on this young batsman in this championship.
“I was nervous and there was tremendous pressure as I was touring Australia after my highly successful debut Test series against England at home. For the first time I was playing against the top countries. It was a big tour but I was determined to do well on the world stage as I was playing against different countries.
“I was relieved when I scored 93 against Pakistan in my first match at Melbourne. We were in trouble at the start. I was very happy to have Sunny bhai (Sunil Gavaskar) as captain. He calmed me down. In fact, whenever I played with him, it was a learning experience for me. He gave me the confidence.’’
In the four tours that Azharuddin played down under, he had mixed returns. “We went for three Tests and one-day games in 1985-86. We were close to winning the Melbourne Test but rain helped the Aussies to salvage a draw. We were unlucky to lose the one-day series. I played a couple of good knocks, scoring half centuries.
“I started to bowl in the one-day series and Kapil paaji had faith in my bowling. I did well in the one-day series. Fielding in big grounds was an experience. The boundaries were too long and to hit a boundary it needed good power and timing. The wickets were bouncy. It takes time before adjusting to the wicket.’’
In this series, the Indian team got to meet Sir Donald Bradman. “He came to our dressing room in the 1985 series. It was a great experience meeting him. He was a private man but that particular day, he met everyone in the dressing room.’’
When Azharuddin went as skipper of the Indian team in 1992-93, it was one of the difficult phases of his career. “To be honest, I was struggling in the Test series. We could have won the Tests in Adelaide and Sydney but somehow we lost our way.’’
But what was interesting, former Australian opener Keith Stackpole, seeing Azhar’s poor run, volunteered to see the Indian skipper personally. “I was struggling for form and that is when Stackpole sent a word through Harsha (Bhogle) whether he could meet me 30 minutes before the practice session in Melbourne.
“He came with 50 or 60 balls (old and new ones). He threw the balls at him at a good pace for 30 minutes. He said that since I was a very good player and he couldn’t see me struggling to play the ball. It was very nice of him and he just told me to bat positively. He said it happens to every cricketer when you get out to brilliant catches. I owe my Adelaide Test 100 to Stackpole as I could bat freely,’’ said the 57-year-old Azhar, who is now the president of Hyderabad Cricket Association.
Azharuddin said Stackpole and Zaheer Abbas were true ambassadors of the game. “Zaheer bhai too helped me in Pakistan. That is how you learn.’’
That 100 was a big relief for Azharuddin and India lost the Test by 35 runs. “I would have been happy if we had won that Test. That hundred gave me a lot of confidence before the World Cup which started after the bilateral series. I scored about 350 runs though as a team we could have done better. To win games in Australia you need to be consistent.’’
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