Like father, like son
Ayaz is 14. Like many others his age he dreams of playing cricket for India. He practices hard, watches a lot of cricket on television and occasionally takes some tips from his father. He's one of the most promising cricketers in the Hyderabad schools circuit and often the stand-out performer for HPS Begumpet, either with his skiddy offbreaks or elegant strokeplay.
He likes standing in the slips, likes to gee up the bowlers, likes to have a word or two with the batsman. He's tall and slender, willowy almost. His sports instructor admonishes him for not trimming his hair, his coach keeps pulling him up for not tucking in his T-shirt. On both occasions, Ayaz looks down, vigorously nods his head and mumbles some apology. He later explains that it's the T-shirt's fault, for being too velvety, and not his.
As he comes on to bowl, the theme tune from Fanaa, a recently released Bollywood hit, is blaring from a function close by; yet another flight is taking off from the adjacent airport. He appears to enjoy the setting. It's an eight-step run up, a gentle pitter-patter, before hopping into his delivery stride. Sometimes he bowls them flat, sometimes he flights them but usually he spins them pretty sharp. In six overs, he's run rings around the opposition - HPS Ramanthapur - and finishes with 3 for 6.
In the lunch break he knocks a few balls near the boundary. He grasps the bat gently, stands slightly open chested and crinkles his face as the ball arrives. He's looking to play straight but the last-moment flick of the wrists invariably takes the ball towards mid-on. A couple of balls are on his pads and, in a quite tender manoeuvre, he turns them away in front of square. On one occasion, with his eyes half closed, he even sticks his tongue out.
To say that Mohammad Ayazuddin resembles his father - in walking, talking, batting, nodding and everything else - would be an understatement. His elder brother Asaduddin looks different and bats different. Ayaz was just seven when Mohammad Azharuddin played his final game. Did he watch old videos and pick up on-field mannerisms? "I've not seen many actually. Maybe it's because he's my best friend. Maybe it's because I look up to him." His other hero was Mark Waugh, who, like Azhar, made batting look like the easiest past-time that one could think of. "He also bowled some offspin so I thought I will be like him."
It's strange to think that Ayaz's best friend is someone who he hardly saw. "He travelled a lot when he played and has his business trips even now but the thing is he's always available. I can call him up anytime and tell him anything I want. He will always spend whatever time we want." Does he speak to him about fitness and batting? "He's told me not to go to the gym till I'm 18, says my body can't take it. Sometimes he comments on my technique, but usually let's me do it my way."
Being kids of a superstar - at one point India's most successful captain - couldn't have been easy. Ayaz and Asad were usually confined indoors. Asad talks about growing up: "We didn't have too many close friends at anytime. We were picked up from school and went straight home. Then we studied a bit, watched some television. We didn't mind it at all, just that it was different from most others."
There's been a fair share of trauma as well. First their parents divorced, then, a few years later, their father was one of the central figures in the match-fixing scandal, arguably the biggest threat to the game in recent times. Sandwiched in between was Azhar's second marriage, this time to a Bollywood actress. People close to them remember the turbulent period, when several of their friends began viewing them with a bit of suspicion.
Asad is thankful that they were too young to understand what was going on. "We hadn't begun to read the newspapers at that time so we were unaware of what was going on." Ayaz, who rarely looks at you while talking, is more forceful: "I don't want to know what happened. I have no interest in finding out."
Ayaz doesn't get many with the bat but his school scamper home to an important win. Yet, even in a short cameo, he manages a few sweet flicks, filling everyone with a sense of nostalgia. At the end of the game, I ask him if he picked up the shot from his father. "I usually flick balls that are on middle or leg stump," he says describing the stroke. "He flicks even if it's on off, even if it's way outside off. I don't know how he does it." I tell him he isn't alone, that a whole generation of cricket lovers were awe-struck by that magical wave of the bat that took the ball from outside off to square leg. For the first time in our whole meeting, he smiles.
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is staff writer of Cricinfo