In a decision that is bound to send shockwaves through the entire cricketing fraternity, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has decided to reinstate former India captain Mohammad Azharuddin (49) into the Indian squad for the third Test against England at Kolkata.
Azharuddin, who was banned for life by the BCCI in 2000 for allegedly admitting to match-fixing, will make a remarkable comeback into the Indian team, 12 years after he last played for the Men in Blue. The Indian cricket board gave the green signal to the Sandeep Patil-chaired selection committee after the Andhra Pradesh High Court, in a landmark decision on Thursday, deemed the BCCI’s ban on the cricketer-turned-politician was “illegal and unsustainable”.
It is learnt that Rajeev Shukla and Jyotiraditya Scindia, two powerful Congress parliamentarians close to the powers that be in Delhi, met BCCI president N Srinivasan at a meeting late on Thursday night. What transpired in the meeting, however, is kept under wraps, other than the fact that the emissaries discussed the future of fellow-Parliamentarian Mohammad Azharuddin. Shukla, however, denied that as speculation and said that it was nothing more than a courtesy call.
Wearing the BCCI hat on Friday, Rajeev Shukla told the media that the BCCI would like to “let bygones be bygones” and do what’s best for Indian cricket. “We spoke with Sandeep Patil and Roger Binny, two people who have played a lot of cricket with Azhar and who are in touch with him, and both were in open to the idea of getting him back,” said Shukla.
When contacted, Sandeep Patil was candid as ever: “Look, Jack Hobbs played till he was 48. Half his hundreds came after the age of 40, and he scored a Test hundred at the age of 46. Brian Close was recalled at 45 by England to face the thunderbolts of Michael Holding, Andy Roberts & Company. So why raise eyebrows if we have to recall Azhar at 49? He was always a very fit guy and he has got even fitter after his playing days. And I can tell without fear of contradiction that he is as good as a Virat Kohli on the field. I just saw what he is still capable of the other day. There is still one slot quite open in the middle-order and Azhar will give a huge value to that spot. And don’t forget that he has got six hundreds from 15 Tests against England and averages over 58. The Eden Gardens would just perfect for his return, where he has scored five hundred in seven matches. How can anybody argue with such facts?”
Indian seamer Ishant Sharma endorsed Patil’s vote for Azhar: “Azharbhai came to the Deccan Chargers’ nets last year and decided to bat for a while. He asked me to bowl as fast as I could, and I thought I would have clocked over 153 kmph. But wherever I bowled, even outside the off stump, Azharbhai kept flicking me quite unbelievably.”
Skipper MS Dhoni, however, said that the decision would harm the balance of his team. “My thinking, you know, is to give the youngsters a chance to bat up the order to take some pressure off the team and make some runs, and myself soak a bit of pressure down the order. I like to take the pressure and make sure the youngsters have no pressure. It’s a game plan, you know, to have a balance. It’s a game strategy; it gives us the depth in the batting and hopefully we can produce some good runs, you know, with the right balance. I think the last one month, we’ve done really well. We’ve spent time in the field together and spent some quality time in the dressing room. So, Azharbhai’s addition will just tilt the balance of the side, you know, that is a crucial aspect in the game.”
Azharuddin, who was stranded on 99 Test caps prior to his ban, will get a chance to reach the milestone at the Eden Gardens.
Rajeev Shukla said: “We have not gone through the High Court’s judgment yet, but we have decided to reward Azhar for staying in the country while proceedings ensued — a quality some ex-BCCI officials clearly lack. You know what I mean!” said Shukla.
Azharuddin, meanwhile, has accepted the BCCI’s extended hand and can’t wait to rejoin the Indian squad. “I am relieved that the ban has been lifted. I have reiterated that it wasn’t me, but the eldest of Suresh Raina’s mischievous nephews who fixed the matches. I had full faith in the BCCI,” said the 49-year-old.
Azharuddin’s spectacular comeback into the Indian team after 12 long years of misery and adversity was bound to become the script of a future Bollywood movie. Karan Johar was the first to call dibs and has announced a venture titled My Name is Azhar (and I am not a match-fixer). Cricket Country