Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy: When a new Azhar took centrestage

Kerala opener Mohammed Azharuddeen’s blitz against Mumbai would have caught the eye of IPL scouts.

Mohammed Azharuddeen has played 22 first-class matches, 24 List A matches, and 22 T20s in his career. - AKHILESH KUMAR

When Mohammed Azharuddeen was batting on 92 at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai on Wednesday night, his captain and partner Sanju Samson went up to him and said: “Look for singles or twos and get your hundred.”

The very next ball, Azharuddeen danced down the track and lofted the Mumbai left-arm spinner Shams Mulani over long-off for a six.

Maybe, as if to please the skipper, the 26-year-old opener got to his hundred with a two. It was one of the few balls that he did not dismiss from his presence in imperious fashion during that astonishing knock of 137 not out off 54 balls (9x4, 11x6).

By the time he took Kerala home to its first ever win over the mighty Mumbai in any form of cricket at the senior level, cricket fans across the country had begun to wonder who this new Azhar was. For those following Kerala cricket, his sweetly timed shots weren’t a revelation, though his temperament was.

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Azharuddeen, named after former India captain and supreme stylist Mohammad Azharuddin, has always been a delight to watch, but he hasn’t had too many big scores. His only century for Kerala (across formats) since making his debut in 2015-16, had come against Punjab in the Ranji Trophy at Mohali two years ago. The innings at Wankhede could be a turning point in his career.

“During the lockdown I had worked hard on facing pace bowlers; I knew that was something I had to do in order to progress to the next stage of my career,” he told Sportstar over phone from Mumbai on Friday.

“I owe it to my coaches Shadaf Khan and N. Bijumon for working with me during the lockdown. And I am grateful to (my fellow-opener) Robin Uthappa and Sanju for egging me on while I was batting against Mumbai.”

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