Nobody has seen more ups and downs than has Congress MP and former India cricket captain Mohammed Azharuddin. He had one of the most sensational Test debuts of all time and went out in disgrace over the match-fixing cloud.
But he has struck back recently first by being elected as an MP and then having the High Court strike down his life ban.
What a debut! Azhar made his debut against England in 1984. He scored 110 in his very first Test. Decent, for many players have achieved that feat. He followed it up with 105 in the second Test and a record breaking 122 in the third Test! A star was born! In fact in the second innings of that Test Azhar was 54 not out when Sunil Gavaskar declared. Some fans even grumbled that Gavaskar did that out of jealousy!
Fastest 100: In 1988, New Zealand had set us an ODI victory target of 279 runs. For those following cricket in those days, it was pretty difficult. Azhar came and banged the fastest century at that time (in 62 balls) and we won with almost 3 overs to spare. The record stood for 8 years before Sanath Jayasuriya blasted it to smithereens (48 balls).
First to 300: ODIs debuted in 1971 and for 25 years, India was one of the rare teams that had never crossed 300. In 1996 in Sharjah again we seemed to be heading for a total of 285-290. Azhar walked in towards the end of the innings and blasted a 10-ball 29 to take India past 300 for the first time ever. That opened the floodgates and we crossed 300 a whopping 70 times after that! 1971-1995: 0. 1996-2012: 70. Thanks Azhar!
Home record: As Test captain, Azhar had a 14-4 record on the Indian sub-continent. He was a master at choking the opposition with spin on dusty tracks. He beat Australia at home and even whitewashed England 3-0. Anil Kumble was his main weapon. Did you know that spinner Rajesh Chauhan played 21 Tests in that era, winning more than half and losing none? That’s because he never ever played outside the sub-continent!
Fielding: Before Rahul Dravid, Azhar was undoubtedly India’s best slip catcher. Though he didn’t have as many catches as Sunil Gavaskar, he was much more sharp and agile. He led on the field and was a master at picking up and throwing the ball towards the stumps.
Overseas record: If Azhar was a great captain in the sub-continent, then he was a disaster outside it. He has an abysmal 0-10 Test captaincy record there. Forget the stronger teams, we even lost to Zimbabwe on their home turf!
Fixed captaincy: Azhar was one of the most boring captains around and was extremely low on innovation. He would begin with the same bowling attack. He would make the same changes and try not to tinker with the batting line-up. On the field he was aloof and not at all inspiring.
The late 1990s: The late 1990s was one of the worst phases of Indian cricket. Apart from match-fixing, India seemed to be fatigued and running out of ideas. The captaincy kept passing between Azhar and Sachin Tendulkar and Kapil Dev was a disaster as a coach. Azhar was very much responsible for that dark age.
Nervous 99s: Whenever Azhar used to reach 99, he would down the shutters. He would defend and defend and wait for a loose ball. It was quite frustrating. It is no surprise that his highest Test score was getting out on 199. Funnily he even got stuck on 99 Tests and could never play his 100th!
Running between the wickets: Azhar was one of the worst runners between the wickets and sometimes looked as if he was trying to get out on purpose! Some even accused him of throwing his wicket away deliberately during the match-fixing allegations.
West Indies chin music: Azhar was not that a great player on foreign soil, but the tour of West Indies in 1997 was in the pits. The West Indies pace battery had him jumping around and he looked to be playing lawn tennis instead of cricket, such were some of his shots. He could only muster up 63 runs in 5 matches!
World Cup 1996: In the semi-finals of the 1996 World Cup, Sri Lanka set us a victory target of 252 runs. Azhar as captain scored a duck and saw his team slide to an abysmal 120-8. Thereafter play was called off thanks to the protesting spectators. India were kicked out of the tournament by default.
Match-fixing: Of course nothing was uglier than the match-fixing scandal which saw the BCCI banning some players including Azhar. He left Indian cricket in disgrace and though he has come back with a bang in 2012, it still remains one of the ugliest eras of Indian cricket.
The author is a Bengaluru-based journalist and blogger.
He blogs at http://sunilrajguru.com/