"Azharuddin had the best wrists in the game."
"A genius who was second only to Brian Lara among batsmen of their generation."
Mohammad Azharuddin was one of the most stylish batsmen to have ever played the game. Ups and downs, highs and lows, good and bad times, the Hyderabadi batsman saw it all in his international career which spanned over 16 years. The skinny batsman announced his arrival in a grand fashion, scoring three centuries in his first three Tests and went on to have a sensational career, which eventually had a tragic ending.
There has been enough written about the match-fixing scandal. Well, there's even a movie on that. Despite all the mishaps, Azharuddin had a legendary career and this article just focuses on his achievements as a player and a captain. Azharuddin featured in 99 Tests and 334 ODIs and it was on this very day in 2000 when he played his last international match for India - an ODI v Pakistan.
ODIs - THE PILLAR OF INDIA'S BATTING LINE-UP
Till that time, no other batsman had scored more runs or played more ODIs than Azharuddin. Known for his wristy strokeplay, Azharuddin was the first man on the planet to score 9000 runs in ODIs and remained the leading run-scorer until October 2000. He was also the first player to play 300 ODIs. Unlike in Test cricket, it took him almost two years (45 matches) to score his first ODI century. Predominantly a middle order batsman, Azharuddin was always compared with the likes of Zaheer Abbas, Greg Chappell and Gundappa Viswanath for his wristy strokes through the on-side.
Azharuddin was one of the mainstays of India's batting line-up in the 90s (Jan 1, 1990 - Dec 31, 1999). He also scored the most number of fifties in this time frame - 50. The only batsman who scored more runs than him in this time period was Sachin Tendulkar. Azharuddin was finishing matches for India and had an average of 48 in ODIs that India won during his career.
Azharuddin almost had a similar record in both home and away ODIs. The right-hander however loved playing against England, against whom he scored 911 runs in 23 innings at 65.07, studded with eight fifties. Only Michael Bevan (71.5), Quinton de Kock (65.27) and Damien Martyn (65.21) have a better average against England amongst batsmen who have scored a minimum of 500 runs against this opponent. Azharuddin's record in England was also quite solid.
Azharuddin always used to play according to the situation but was naturally an aggressive player. In 1988, the right-hander smoked a century off just 62 balls against New Zealand. This was then the fastest ODI century of all-time and the record stood till April 1996 when Sanath Jayasuriya slammed a hundred off only 48 deliveries against Pakistan. To add to that, Azharuddin was one of the fittest players of his era and was a brilliant fielder, no matter where he was fielding.
Azharuddin was also a successful captain. He led India in 47 Tests and 174 ODIs. Under his leadership, India won 14 Tests and 90 ODIs. He first captained India in 1990 and is the second most successful Indian ODI captain, only behind MS Dhoni. Azharuddin also captained India in three World Cups - 1992, 1996 and 1999.
After averaging over 40 in 1997 and 1998, Azharuddin's form started to dip and was averaging just over 27 since the start of 1999. He was dismissed for just 1 in his last ODI against Pakistan after which he was banned from the sport for life.
TESTS - CENTURY IN HIS FIRST, CENTURY IN HIS LAST
110 in Kolkata → 105 in Chennai → 122 in Kanpur
Azharuddin is the only batsman to have scored a century in each of his first three Tests. He finished his career with 22 Test centuries to his name. Tendulkar (51), Rahul Dravid (36), Sunil Gavaskar (34), Virat Kohli (27) and Virender Sehwag (23) are the only Indians who have scored more hundreds than Azharuddin in the longest format of the game.
Azharuddin's best Test knock came against England at Lord's in 1990. The match is best remembered for Graham Gooch's 333 but Azharuddin forced everyone to sit up and take notice as he raced to his century off 87 deliveries. Then in the very next Test in Manchester, he scored 179 and helped India draw the match after England amassed 519 in their first innings. He scored 426 runs at 85.20 in that series. This tally was the highest by an Asian skipper in a Test series in England before Virat Kohli plundered 593 runs in the 2018 tour.
Likewise in ODIs, Azharuddin had a pretty good record against England in Test cricket. However, it was in New Zealand where Azharuddin scored runs at an astonishing average.
In his first seven years of Test cricket, Azharuddin never averaged less than 38.64 in a calendar year. He struggled in 1991 and 1992 but apart from that the right-hander performed consistently for India. Azharuddin had a solid record in India, scoring 3412 runs at an average of 55.93. Only Kohli (68.42) and Cheteshwar Pujara (59.84) have a better average amongst Indian batsmen with a minimum of 3000 runs in India. He also scored a century off 74 balls against South Africa in 1996, equalling Kapil Dev's record for the fastest Test century by an Indian player.
Azharuddin's career ended on a terrible note, but his legacy as a player and a captain will be there for ages to come.