MUMBAI: Former Indian opener Navjot Singh Sidhu walked out of India's 1996 tour of England because he thought his captain Mohammad Azharuddin was constantly abusing him, a new book by former BCCI secretary Jaywant Lele claims.
The tour is remembered for the infamous walk-out by opener Sidhu, citing differences with his captain, but the exact reasons have never been spelt out by the persons in the middle of this unsavoury drama or by BCCI.
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Lele has now revealed in his autobiography "I was There - Memoirs of a Cricket Administrator" that Sidhu could not stomach the constant bad mouthing of Azharuddin and abandoned the tour in a huff without being aware that the swear words used by the then skipper were commonplace in his home town Hyderabad and no disrespect was meant.
Finally it was Mohinder Amarnath, a member of the panel that probed the matter, who managed to coax him to reveal the real reason for his tour walkout, Lele said.
Lele has recalled that the board had conducted an enquiry into the incident and nothing came out in the first meeting of the special committee in Mumbai where Sidhu refused to reveal the reason.
The panel comprised then BCCI chief Raj Singh Dungarpur, IS Bindra, former India captain Sunil Gavaskar with Lele as its convenor.
"Each committee member tried his best to extract the reason. Sidhu was firm that it was his mistake to return in this manner and he was prepared to face the consequences," Lele has written in his book.
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"By that time, the team had returned from England on completion of the tour. Manager Nagaraj, captain M Azharuddin, physio Ali Irani and some team members were also called but all expressed ignorance about the reasons for Sidhu's strange behaviour.
"Finally we thought of replacing a committee member with another former but Punjabi-speaking player who could probably unearth the truth by getting friendly with him and by talking to him in his own language," Lele has written.
"Gavaskar paved the way for Mohinder Amarnath. Sidhu was summoned again to the Taj Palace in New Delhi. We replayed the tape-recorded depositions of players and officials, to convince him. He stubbornly repeated his stand. Mohinder apparently got upset.''
"On seeing the deadlock, Raj Singh announced a short break and glanced at Mohinder. As planned, Mohinder got up, held Sidhu's hand and told him to accompany him for a stroll.''
"We waited for Mohinder's return expectantly. But to everyone's surprise, when they returned after about 20 minutes, Mohinder was holding Sidhu's hand and was laughing. Sidhu was looking at him rather nervously. Everyone in the meeting was more puzzled. After overcoming the amusement, Mohinder recommended to the committee that we forget about the incident. He said nothing had happened," Lele has written.
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Later revealing the reason to the four BCCI panel members, Amarnath told them, with the condition that it should be kept within the four walls, that only with a lot of prodding could he coax out from Sidhu the reason for his walkout.
Sidhu told Amarnath that things were fine in the beginning of the tour before Azhar started abusing the opener repeatedly.
"Everyday, when they met, he used to say 'Good morning', okay, but this was invariably followed by filthy words. At the hotel, at the nets, while passing on instructions, even while chatting with him, Azhar would address him with a prefix!"
"Sidhu said he was terribly upset and decided it was not tolerable! He had not come on the tour to listen to abuses from the skipper. He was upset. so he decided to leave the team quietly," Lele has written.
"Mohinder was stunned! But as he knew Azhar closely, he was not ready to believe him. He insisted that Sidhu tell him the words used by Azhar. Ultimately Sidhu came out with the words: "Maa ke......"
"After a pause, Mohinder burst into laughter as Sidhu watched him nervously.
"Finally, Mohinder told him 'Dear Sherry, okay, this is an abuse in North India. But, believe me, this is a very common naughty address to a dear one in Hyderabadi, often used by even ladies there! It means mother's dear child. While calling you with that prefix, Azhar was not showing slightest disrespect to you, leave aside any offence!"
Amarnath told the four BCCI panel members that Sidhu's eyes opened wide with disbelief.
Amarnath told Sidhu, "It's a great miscommunication which deserves to be forgotten and forgiven once and for all! Now, I really understand why Azhar insisted that he had no idea about the reason of your fleeing. And mind you, he was damn right," the former BCCI secretary has written.