Azharuddin has the last laugh

Woorkheri Raman

March 6, 2000

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Cricket, the game of glorious uncertainties, has a habit of settling issues and ensuring that even the greatest of players remain a notch lower than itself. The way it goes about doing this may vary depending on the recipient and sometimes lessons are taught almost with an impish sense of humour. Azharuddin, the man who was deliberately kept out of the side has had the last laugh and his detractors must be running for cover after his classy ton.

Kapil Dev, the Indian coach, must be choking on his own words and must be kicking himself for speaking too soon with regard to Azharuddin. When the latter walked in to bat in the second innings at the Chinnaswamy stadium, he must have realised how Atlas would have felt. There must have been at least one half of the country waiting to add on to their earlier prophecies if he failed. One false stroke would have not only signaled the end of a long career but also set off a lot of tongues wagging.

An uppish on drive through mid-wicket proved to be the start of a glorious innings and once the half century was completed, Azharuddin's confidence level was so high he unleashed shots which were breathtaking. Boje, the left arm spinner, was marked out for achieving or galloping to the personal landmarks. Azharuddin clouted him over the long-off fence to reach his half-century and then was mauled on the final day to get closer to his hundred. A couple of cover drives off Allan Donald with the second new ball were an indication of Azharuddin's class. Those shots also underlined that he might be aging but his reflexes and his fizz for international cricket has not diminished yet.

The magnificent century of Azharuddin was not enough in the end for the hosts to pull off a draw. One surprising aspect was the success of Boje against the Indian top order. Agreed that he was steady and that too on a helpful pitch, but succumbing to a lone spinner is definitely not what is expected of the Indians. The hosts were also guilty of playing loose shots to be dismissed, which gradually seems to have become a habit.

Kumble's remarkable marathon effort was due to the inefficiency of his colleagues in the spin department. Karthik was strong enough to come back later on in the match and Chopra was a major disappointment. His inability to bowl a few steady overs even on a helpful track was the limit and he has to do a lot of introspection. Talking of it, the entire team has to do the same in order to perform better which they are capable of doing.

One should not forget the disciplined effort of the South Africans under alien conditions. The fact that Kluesner sacrificed his natural stroke making instinct for the sake of his side reflects the collective grit and dedication of the South African team. Full credit should be given to Cronje as he kept the team going despite his batting form letting him down again. Even the fast bowlers never gave up considering there was hardly any pace or bounce they are accustomed to on their home grounds. In a nutshell, the side with the fiercest resolve won the test series and quite deservedly so.

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