Mohammad Azharuddin: Not a big fan of pink-ball cricket

Mohammad Azharuddin, the former India captain, feels playing Test cricket with the red ball is a long-standing tradition and should be upheld.

Besides being a prolific run-getter, Azharuddin was one of India’s greatest fielders.   -  Ritu Raj Konwar

Test cricket may be a severely challenged format with the ever-increasing popularity of the Twenty20s (T20), but Mohammad Azharuddin, the former India captain, feels Test cricket does not need encouragement. "I don't know why people fear for the future of Test cricket. Although the number of Test matches has gone down, you are getting results," Azharuddin said on the sidelines of the Sportstar Aces Awards in Mumbai.

"The Rawalpindi and Karachi Tests between Australia and Pakistan may have ended in draws. However, the format has been throwing up some exciting cricket. As the apex body, it is the ICC's job to decide if and how they want to rehabilitate the Test format. There were also talks of four-day cricket a while back, but I don't feel that's the way forward."

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Since the late 2000s, amid growing concern over dwindling interest in Tests, the idea to have day-night Tests began to gain popularity to bring more people to the stadia and attract a larger TV audience. The first men's pink-ball Test was played in Adelaide in November 2015. It turned out to be a low-scoring thriller, with Australia beating New Zealand by just three wickets on day three.

India has played four pink-ball Tests so far, won three and lost one. Every pink-ball Test so far has had a result, but Azharuddin is one of the old school. "I am not a very big fan of pink-ball cricket. With Tests, it has to be with the red-ball. It's a long-standing tradition and should be upheld in my opinion. I know it's (pink-ball Tests) getting results, but bowlers and batters have had complaints too in the past," he said when asked if day-night Tests should become a regular feature of home seasons. 

"Specialist position"

Mohammad Azharuddin: "Slip, silly point, short leg are specialist positions. You can’t get anybody and everybody to stand there."   -  GETTY IMAGES


Besides being a prolific run-getter, Azharuddin was one of India’s greatest fielders. He rarely dived but his technique and anticipation always stood out. Azharuddin weighed in on the current crop of Indian fielders. "The main thing for me is fielding consistently well. Ravindra Jadeja and Virat Kohli, all field well, but we need to do it consistently. Slip, silly point, short leg are specialist positions. You can’t get anybody and everybody to stand there. If you keep changing the make-up of the cordon, it'll affect performance.

"My most important drill was to take many many catches. It helps you get a feel of the ball. If you like fielding, then you can become a good fielder. You've to enjoy fielding. There are a lot of good fielders, but if you want to become excellent, you have to do more."

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Tough for Rahane, Pujara

Azharuddin also thinks it will be hard for Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane to break into the Indian squad for last summer's rescheduled fifth Test against England at Edgbaston on July 1.

"Rahane and Pujara might find it difficult, the only thing that might tilt the scales in their favour is the experience. But with the advent of Shreyas Iyer and Hanuma Vihari, it'll be tough. The bench strength is strong. I feel when young players come in, they need to be consistent. This change of guard is a generational thing. It has happened before. The key is to identify the best players and give them more chances to perform. Do not let the mental pressure of "whether I will get another game if I fail" affect them. Chopping and changing a squad too often is a problem."

Lacking depth

Azharuddin drew comparisons with Sri Lankan sides of yore while commenting on the Islanders' recent 0-2 Test series defeat against India. "Most players were immensely talented, and they were also vying to compete with the best and show that they belonged at the highest echelons. They won the World Cup in 1996. They had a world-class spinner in Muttiah Muralitharan. He was their main wicket taker; he bowled very positively and was supported beautifully by the likes of Chaminda Vaas. In comparison, their bowling attack looks very depleted now. They don't have the depth to get a team out twice."

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