Azharuddin reveals reason behind promoting Tendulkar as opener

On this day in 1994 at Auckland, Azharuddin, in consultation with team manager Ajit Wadekar, promoted Sachin to open the innings. The rest is history.

Sachin Tendulkar makes a statement in his first appearance as ODI opener. He smashes a 49-ball 82.   -  V. V. Krishnan

Former India captains Mohammad Azharuddin and Sachin Tendulkar seem to have a special bonding in scripting some of the most memorable moments in Indian cricketing history.

On this day in 1994 at Auckland in New Zealand, Azhar as captain, in consultation with team manager Ajit Wadekar (then there was no coach and support staff), promoted Sachin to open the innings for the first time and the rest is history.

The gifted cricketer from Mumbai responded with a stunning onslaught on the Kiwi bowling attack scoring a 42-ball 82 (15x4, 2x6).

How exactly did that materialise? “I have been noticing that nothing was happening big with Sachin even though he was batting well at No. 5 and 6. We (myself and Wadekar Sir) did have a talk on this issue and went ahead with the decision to have Sachin as opener after regular opener Sidhu (Navjyot Singh) was unwell,” recalls Azhar in an exclusive chat with Sportstar on Friday.

On this day: Tendulkar's promotion as ODI opener proves worthy  

“And, importantly, Sachin also wanted to open and now we are glad that went on to become one of the greatest batsmen of all-time,” he added.

“I won’t say I was surprised by his response, I knew Sachin had the talent. He just needed that opportunity to showcase his abundance of talent,” Azhar said.

But, what was that about Sachin’s batting that made Azhar take the call? “He is an attacking batsman and with the field restrictions on, we thought once he gets going half the job is done for the team. And, as everyone knows he was an exceptional talent,” the 57-year-old, former India captain said.

“I can’t take pride for his achievements later on. In fact, nobody can. He had the talent to go to places,” he felt.

Even Sachin acknowledged in his autobiography ’Playing It My Way’. “I went up to Azhar and our manager Ajit Wadekar, a former India captain and a leading batsman of his time, and pleaded with them to give me an opportunity at the top of the order,” he wrote in the book. "I told Wadekar, if I failed I’d never ask him again,” he wrote in his book.

Interestingly, Azhar in 1993 Hero Cup semifinal also was responsible for pulling off a major surprise against the South Africans.

With a packed crowd at Eden Gardens lustily cheering and backing the team, Azhar looked to Sachin to bowl the last over when the visitors needed six runs to win with two wickets in hand. And, the great cricketer response in style conceding just one run of the last four balls and helping India win the contest by two runs!

What about that? “Well, we were aware that any bowler could be hit easily for five runs at that level. So, we thought of a different strategy. There were good three to four minutes discussion and lucky the umpires too were liberal,” Azhar said.

“Yes, there was a discussion with all the seniors on the field. It was definitely a spontaneous thought and a quick decision had to be taken,” recalled Azhar, who himself a great batsman in his heydays.

Azhar walks down memory lane

With lockdown in force, the Hyderabad Cricket Association (HCA) president went down memory lane to share a few thoughts on two more significant phases in his career.

“Obviously, those three centuries in my first three Tests against England (1984-85 series against David Gower’s team) were the greatest moments of my life. I really worked very hard to play for my country,” he says with a sense of pride.

“Well, I have been playing Ranji Trophy by then and only when I scored that double century for South Zone in Duleep Trophy match did I get a feel that I am just there,” Azhar recalled.

English summer and Azhar are inseparable chapters if the glorious moments are chronicled.

Mohammad Azharuddin plays a shot en route to his century at Lord's in 1990.   -  THE HINDU ARCHIVES


“Yes, that Lord’s century in 1990 Test after Graham Gooch’s triple century pushed India back to the wall was really special. For the simple reason, before that Test my father called me and wished that I scored a ton at Lord's. I am glad that I could fulfil his wish. Obviously, that was one of the best knocks I ever played,” he said.

And, his county stint with Derbyshire in 1991 scoring 2500 runs making him the first-ever to do so is also one of his happy memories.

“It was a different and very difficult experience. For, till then I have never played continuous cricket for six months and missed only game for Derbyshire because of fever. The conditions were totally difficult unlike now. The ball was swinging left, right and centre. It was a huge learning curve and I am glad that I could repose the faith in me by the County authorities,” says a visibly contented Azhar.

When asked how he is spending time during this lockdown? “Well, working from home as president of HCA. Getting whatever things possible done over the phone. And when I have free time having a glimpse of the videos of what my fans, friends and relatives feel and share with me some of my best moments on the field,” he said.

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