'Nobel Prize for sportspersons'

In his speech, Azharuddin remembered the immense role his grandfather had played in shaping his career early on. Describing his death as "the saddest moment" in his life, Azhar said he had always remained an inspiration.

A. C. Muthiah, President, BCCI, presents The Sportstar 1998 Sportsperson of the Year award to Mohammed Azharuddin.

The nattily dressed Mohammed Azharuddin cut a dashing figure as he strode in with his wife Sangeetha into the Taj ballroom.The occasion was the annual awards function of The Sportstar, and as the magazine's Sportsperson of the Year for 1998, it was a very special moment for Azhar.

But his cheerful visage must have masked a tinge of sadness. Last time around, when Sourav Ganguly was the recipient of the award, Azhar, the proud captain of a winning unit, attended the function with the entire Indian team.

And it was for his enormous contribution in lifting the national team to dizzy heights, both as a skipper and a batsman, that The Sportstar chose him for the award. It was also a year, that saw his dramatic second coming as leader.

There was a thunderous applause for the wristy strokeplayer, when he declared at the function that he would carry on bravely in his quest to force his way back into the Indian side.

In his welcome address, N. Ram, Editor, The Sportstar, acknowledged Azhar's contribution to Indian cricket even as he recalled some stirring deeds from his career (the entire speech is reproduced in the magazine). He expressed the hope that Azhar would reclaim his place in the Indian team, and stressed on his physical fitness.

Felicitating Azharuddin, A.C. Muthiah, President, Board of Control for Cricket in India, said the award carried a lot of credibility since it was not guided by zonal considerations.

Describing it as the "Nobel Prize for sportspersons in the country," he added India needed many more Azharuddins. Muthiah, a prominent figure in the nation's industrial circles, paid compliment when he said Azhar had a permanent place in India's cricketing history.

And, on his new role in the BCCI, Muthiah was candid about the controversies he has to grapple with almost on an everyday basis. He also revealed the Board's desire to improve the cricketing infrastructure in the country, and discover young talent.

In his speech, Azharuddin remembered the immense role his grandfather had played in shaping his career early on. Describing his death as "the saddest moment" in his life, Azhar said he had always remained an inspiration.

Azhar also dwelt on wife Sangeetha's keen interest in his career and thanked his employers, who, he confessed, gave him a break, when he was a nobody. S. Krishnan, Associate Editor (Sports), The Hindu, presented Azharuddin with the traditional ponnadai.

The Sportstar, also conferred the billiards maestro Wilson Jones with the Legend of Indian Sport award. But the great man himself could not be present due to ill-health and the fact that the dates of the function clashed with Christmas.

In a nicely worded message, the genial Jones, a true path-finder for Indian billiards, someone who enriched the game, expressed his gratitude for the rare honour. "There is heaviness in my heart in not being able to attend."

P. Venkatram, a contemporary of Wilson Jones, received the award on his friend's behalf, and then took everyone back to Jones' glory days as a player unmatched.

And chess prodigy Koneru Humpy, bagged the Young Achiever award for the second successive year; she first won the World under-10 title, then, triumphed at the World under-12 championships. Her mother Mrs. Latha Askok collected the award since Humpy was busy playing a chess tournament.

It was fitting that just when Arvind Aaron, Chess Correspondent, The Hindu, was highlighting her qualities as a teenage sensation, came a flash from Ahmedabad that Humpy had, in an extraordinary display, won the Asian Under-12 boys' title. Only the talented Judith Polgar had achieved a similar feat earlier.

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