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20 June, 2007

The charmingly callow Azhar

By Chandrahas Choudhury


Title: Azhar

By: Harsha Bhogle

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One of the greatest cataclysms of my teenage years was the day I discovered that an army of termites, nibbling and burrowing away out of sight, had laid waste to the wooden bookshelf that housed all my cricket books. Some of the books themselves, having after all been wood in a past life, had also not survived the attack. Out of the ruined city of cricket literature I fished out my prized copy of Harsha Bhogle’s Azhar, which I diligently read every year. I was not to know it then, but in a couple of years the reputation of the book’s subject was to be similarly in tatters.

That is not to take away from Bhogle’s book, which chronicles not just the career of one of the greatest batting geniuses of all time (perhaps only Brian Lara amongst batsmen after Azhar has given such pleasure) but indeed a different age of cricket. Even by the time he reached the highest stage, Azhar was remarkably, even charmingly, callow - for his Test debut he borrowed a close friend’s helmet, having never worn one before. Captaincy later made a different man of him, and the enigma of his batting was echoed in the meandering routes of his personal life and his dealings with bookies. Still well worth reading, though you may want to fill in some blanks yourself.

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I consider two shots to be the greatest shots I have seen in my 22 years of cricket watching on TV. One was a six over covers off the back-foot by Hooper. The other one was by Azhar in the Test in which Jayasuriya made 340. IIRC India batted first and Azhar shared a huge partnership with Tendulkar. Ranatunga, being Ranatunga switched to negative tactics and he had the off-spinner Dharmasena bowl round the wicket with a packed leg-side field. Azhar batting on leg-stump drove a ball which pitched on leg and spun further down the leg to the boundary between Mid-off and covers.
This shot needed wrists made of rubber. Will never forget this shot. Masterstroke.

Posted by BVHK on Thu, June 21, 2007 at 9:20:47

amazing how the domination by Tendulkar.. the tenacity of a Dravid… the mind-boggling concentration of Gavaskar all pale away as show-casings of talented players but the wristy masterplay of a gundappa vishwanath or azzar is a stroke of genius and almost deserves us waxing poetically about it!

I was not even aware of Harsha Bhogle’s book about Azzar… but considering I am a big fan of both Harsha and Azzar, I will definitely try to get hold of this book sometime. However, the reading will be made that much more poignant and disturbing because of all that has transpired since with Azzar’s career. I still cannot believe that Azzar could have faltered thus… showing perhaps that despite that touch of genius we all lauded, our superstars are also mere mortals who can succumb to temptation like everyone else!

“From the penthouse suspended silently so high above the winding traffic’s iron lamentation, forty straight-down stories into those long, low, night-blue bars aglow below street-level, a lonely guilt pervades us all.” - Nelson Algren in Nonconformity - Writing on Writing.

Posted by Sanjeev on Thu, June 21, 2007 at 10:13:16

For all the respect I have for Harsha, I will find it difficult to read Harsha’s book. Azhar was a genius with the bat and an electric fielder. He trusted Kumble a lot and thank him for that. He was the first person who started the concept of winning series at home, and made India the final frontier. Pitches were custom-made for Kumble. Never would you get an Amhedabad like pitch (New Zealand drawn series) or Nagpur (loss to Australia). Ganguly continued in that vein and added on a few overseas test victories as well. But Ganguly had the benefit of having three best batsmen in the world playing together (plus add Sehwag to the mix).

I remember that after the Azhar fiasco, I found it difficult to appreciate cricket for a long time. Even now, when there is a big upset, I cannot but think if there is some “fixing” going on. May be I was too naive, and Azzha gave me a reality check. Still, I miss those yesteryears when cricket was not tainted.

Posted by V. S. Prabhu on Fri, June 22, 2007 at 3:59:09

Bhogle was obviously deeply disappointed by the match fixing saga as we all were and said that he had misunderstood the man (on those lines) talking not long after the match fixing saga.

It is an amazing book though. For me, the greatness of Azhar was always how he placed the ball perfectly between fielders like I have seen no batsman do since. And who can forget his wrists in full flow.

Posted by Pratyush on Sat, June 23, 2007 at 9:46:19

I was in Bangalore and found this book in a second hand bookstore for just ninety bucks. After dilly-dallying—for I had already bought many books—I finally decided against buying it. Crap!

Posted by Anirudh on Tue, June 26, 2007 at 2:07:27

Azhar is the all time best middle order batsman. He had those rubber wrists, but his career ended in with match fixing scandal. There was no proof that Azhar was involved in match fixing but Chanu Borde wanted to ban him so they did.

Posted by saleem on Thu, June 28, 2007 at 1:46:37

Hi there!

Brilliantlly written first paragraph! I loved the way you painted that picture in my mind (reader’s mind!)

I have another selfish reason to write to you. We had the privilege of talking to Harsha Bhogle who was game for it. I request you to please click on the following link which will take you to the page which houses the mp3 file. The file size is a bit daunting - 30 Mb, but, I would still urge you to listen to it coz I bet you will love it.


Harsha Bhogle opens upo after the 15th minute (of 30 min) like a batsman does in his slog overs and is at his opinionated best!

Sit back with a cup of coffee, turn on your speakers.

Posted by Abhishek on Mon, November 05, 2007 at 1:17:21

Is this book available as a e-book?

Posted by Watermarker on Wed, May 14, 2008 at 4:53:02

I haven’t found this book online.

Posted by NavisionGirl on Thu, May 15, 2008 at 11:32:09

One of the best biographies I have read. Harsha does well to take the reader on a emotional roller coaster ride along with Azhar the player. Azhar as a player had seen many ups and downs in his career. Every time Azhar came back with a century, the reader feels vindicated. Azhar had played some of the greatest test and one-day innings played by an Indian batsman and the book recounts those innings very well. With the match-fixing controversy, it is easy to overlook Azhar’s contribution to Indian cricket. Leaving match-fixing aside, this book is a deserving tribute to one of the greatest batsman produced by India.

Posted by All In One on Mon, May 19, 2008 at 11:21:13

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