Azharuddeen makes a mark on comeback

Wicketkeeper batsman Mohammed Azharuddeen was picked on strength of his consistent batting and good work with the gloves in the Under-23 tournament. He played a crucial knock of 64 runs in his first Ranji Trophy match against Goa followed by another mature innings of 82 against Andhra in Guwahati.

Azharuddeen spent two weeks with Kiran More at the NCA Academy to hone his wicketkeeping skills and it put him in good stead in this season.   -  Ritu Raj Konwar

A few hours after Kerala’s match against Haryana in Jaipur, the Kerala selectors made a surgical strike. They removed P. Balachandran as Ranji Trophy coach and dropped four players. Wicketkeeper batsman Mohammed Azharuddeen was one of the players who was drafted into the Kerala Ranji Trophy squad from C.K. Nayadu Trophy squad.

Azharuddeen was picked on strength of his consistent batting and good work with the gloves in the Under-23 tournament. Against Goa in his first Ranji Trophy match this season in Mumbai which was his fourth first class game, he played a crucial innings of 64 and figured in a century stand with skipper Rohan Prem in the second innings which bailed out his team.

In the next match against Andhra in Guwahati, Azharuddeen again played a matured knock of 82 to top score for Kerala when other experienced batsmen failed to handle the swing of Vijay Kumar properly. Azharuddeen capped a fine match for him personally when he took seven catches – six in the first innings – and a stumping.

The back to back fifties and the patient manner in which he compiled his knocks surprised many who have seen him play only as a free stroking batsman. Kerala’s assistant coach R.Rajagopal who was Azharuddeen’s coach in the C.K. Nayadu Trophy was one of those who was impressed with Azharuddeen’s transformation.

"He showed a lot of maturity and surprised many with his patience. He is normally a batsman who loves to attack. But he curbed his instincts and played according to demands of the team. He was willing to take responsibility and played selflessly," he said.

For Azharuddeen, the success bat he enjoyed this season boiled to changes he made in his batting style. "In the C.K. Nayadu Trophy I played as an opener. I made a conscious decision to play the ball according to its merit. Normally once in a while I would be tempted to play the flashy shot to balls outside the off stump. This season I was more willing to wait for bad deliveries and it clicked. I scored a century against Maharashtra and it gave me confidence to do well in Ranji Trophy," he said.

"After I failed in the first innings against Goa, I was determined to do well in the second innings. Rohan Prem was very helpful and he guided me during the course of the innings. Against Andhra the conditions were very difficult. The ball was moving. I played the waiting game and scored my runs. I was disappointed not to score a century. But I am happy that I could contribute to the team’s cause in both matches," he said.

The 22-year-old spent some two weeks with Kiran More at the NCA Academy to hone his wicketkeeping skills and it put him in good stead in this season. "Definitely the session with More has helped me to improve my wicketkeeping. I have worked hard on this aspect of my game with my coach Bijumon at the nets and the results are there for all to see," said Azharuddeen.

Azharuddeen carries a burden in his name. When Azharuddeen’s older brother Kamaruddeen, an avid fan of former India captain Mohammed Azharuddin, named his younger sibiling the name of his idol, he wanted him to be a cricketer and play for India one day. Azharuddeen has taken hesitant steps as first class cricketer and is realistic. He wants to savour the moment and hopefully play for Kerala for a long time.