Kapil Dev's coach Azad dies aged 75
Desh Prem Azad, the former coach of Kapil Dev and other Test cricketers, died in Mohali on Friday aged 75 after a brief illness. Reports say he had been in hospital for the past 15 days.
Azad represented Haryana, the Maharaja of Patiala's XI and Southern Punjab, playing 19 first-class matches in which he scored 658 runs and took eight wickets. He also served as match referee in two Under-19 matches between India and Australia in 2005.
However, it was as coach that he was best known, and for which he received the Dronacharya award - the highest national honour for a coach. Kapil was only the most famous of his students; the other Test cricketers coached included Chetan Sharma, Yograj Singh and Ashok Malhotra.
Kapil's legend - at least the early years - were closely tied to those of his coach and on Friday evening he shared his thoughts. "If I achieved anything, a lot of credit goes to him," Kapil told ESPNcricinfo. "He coached me from the beginning of my career . I remember the first day I went to the stadium and I only learnt from him. He was more of a friend to me later on, he was not just a coach."
Sharma, a former fast bowler, was coached throughout his career by Azad from a very young age. "I was seven years old when I first went to him, so I played my entire cricket under him," Sharma said. "I became the player I was because of the discipline he taught us. He used to take me on his scooter to play cricket in many schools. I first played for India at the age of 17 and it was all because of his efforts.
"He was a very disciplined and hard-working man. His timings were very strict and if we were even five minutes late for practice, he would punish us by not letting us practice for five days. If he asked us to report at 5am, he was there before us and he was always the last person to leave the stadium. You don't get to see coaches like him these days."
Sharma also said that apart from coaching him on the field, Azad played a major role in making him mentally tough, especially in pressure situations.
"Once, when I was 13-14 years old, I was practising when some local cricketers said that I was chucking. But he was very supportive and he went against everybody saying, 'How can you say that'. He called me separately and said, 'They don't know much about cricket'. He was my saviour and I owe him everything.
"The only time he sympathised with me was when Javed Miandad hit me for six on the last ball of the match in Sharjah. He kept me away from everybody in the stadium. There was a tour of England immediately after that and he made me practice separately. He did all this to make sure that nobody would remind me of that incident and I would not get depressed before the tour. He was over-protective and he knew when to be over-protective and when to be strict.
"He travelled with me to England to support me. He sat in the stands throughout, he didn't let my confidence go down and even advised me to open the bowling after that."
Sharma went on to praise Azad for grooming two international fast bowlers and making four players represent India in Tests. "How to coach a kid and then make him play for India at the age of 17, very few coaches have managed to do that. That too, making two back-to-back fast bowlers play for India - Kapil Dev and me, it's not easy."
Yuvraj Singh also tweeted about Azad's demise: "Really sad to know about the death of DP Azad sir, coach of so many great cricketers from northern India. RIP Azad sir."
Vishal Dikshit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo