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Azhar's No-ball

Azhar's No-ball

Author: Editorial
Publication: The Times of India
Date: June 19, 2000

What had been simmering under the surface has finally erupted, and it is none other than Mohammad Azharuddin who has brought it out into the open. Azhar says he is being targeted because he belongs to a minority community. With this he has opened up a dangerous can of worms; moreover, and the `minority card' Azhar is playing may turn out to be a loser's hand. After all, he would have to explain why -- if his allegations of being made a victim of minority-bashing is valid -- he was made the captain and kept on as skipper for so long. If the world of cricket is really that communal, how can he explain the fan following he has among cricket lovers all across the country? How will he explain the fact that he was built up as a star by these very people at whom he is now wagging an accusatory finger? Perhaps, Azhar could say that his talent was too prodigious for even the most communal of his foes to keep under wraps; but neither his batting average nor his leadership skills would support such as assertion. Notwithstanding his elegance and his silken touch, there have been many others who've done as well as Azhar. Navjyot Singh Siddhu is the most obvious example. Then there was the wily cricketing brain Ravi Shastri. Neither of them have had as much of a free reign as Azharuddin. Indeed, Ravi Shastri, who is one of those Azhar has threatened to sue has always supported Azhar, at least in his television commentaries. So it is sad that Azharuddin should now react to locker-room comments made by people -- comments which were never supposed to reach his ears, in the first place.

But is Azharuddin really to blame for taking such an extreme step? Regrettable and cowardly as it is, there is perhaps some truth in his outburst. And that truth need not be about those who he has named. It is an accusation that holds more water when it is aimed at a wider public domain, where snide comments about Azhar's loyalties and his religious beliefs have become part and parcel of everyday roadside cricket punditry. How many times have cricket buffs participated in post-match conversations where the coroner's report has `proved' beyond doubt that the `perfidious' Azharuddin has sold out to the enemy? When Cricketgate first hit the headlines everyone was sure it was Azharuddin. If there is speculation that there is a Dawood Ibrahim plant in the cricket team the immediate candidate for popular vilification is Azharuddin. Till now this had remained within the confines of private conversations, but when the murmurs become a resonant chorus it is as good as being a public indictment. It is not a simple problem which has easy solutions: For every verbal stone thrown at Azhar there is also real love and admiration -- often residing in the same cricket fanatic. Azhar should have understood this paradox, this complex relation between cricket, nationalism and hero-worship. Just as it is the positive aspects of national passions that made him a hero, its reprehensible slide into jingoism paints him as a `traitor'. If he reacts to public prejudice he will have to pay the price of losing public affection -- and his image of heroic patriotism.

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