Former Indian cricket captain Mohammad Azharuddin, 49, is in the Kingdom these days. One of the most successful captains in his country’s cricketing history, he was relaxed and happy because of the Indian court’s recent decision exonerating
him of all the match-fixing allegations. A well-established politician and parliamentarian, he fielded all the questions from Siraj Wahab of Arab News with the deftness of a classic batsman that he once was.
Following are excerpts from the interview:
What brings you to Saudi Arabia at this point in time?
I have wanted to come to Saudi Arabia for Umrah and visit Madinah for a long time, and then I got this invitation to attend the second Foundation Day at the Dunes International School of Nadeem Tarin. I never say no to any event that is associated with education. Plus, I have a special affinity with Nadeem Tarin. So here I am at their invitation. This is my first visit to Dammam and Alkhobar.
More than a sportsman you are a politician now and you belong to Congress Party of Sonia Gandhi. You are an elected member of Parliament from Moradabad in Uttar Pradesh. How do you read the current political scenario?
The political scene is good for our party. All the flagship programs for the welfare of the people of our country launched by our party and government are having a good impact. Recently our party had an introspective meeting in Jaipur. The deliberations there were very good. A very positive message came out from that meeting. We in the Congress Party are hoping to do greater efforts to help the people of India, especially the downtrodden who find it very tough to get ahead in life. We are focusing on tackling issues related to unemployment and poverty. The recent cash-transfer program in particular will have great impact on the fortunes of the people.
You spoke about the introspective meeting. Did you attend the party’s Jaipur conclave?
Yes, I did.
It appears that Congress is on the back foot because of a host of national issues. Muslims, who have always been among the most loyal supporters of the centrist party, feel especially disenchanted and disillusioned. What is your sense?
No, we are not on the back foot. That is not a correct perception. Ours is a 120-year-old party, and almost all the welfare programs were initiated and implemented by us. We have had a different party ruling the country for a couple years in between. Otherwise it has been Congress all the way. So, no we are not on the back foot. Yes, there is a need to implement the recommendations of various commissions such as the ones that were headed by Justice Rajinder Sachar and Justice Ranganath Misra. If their recommendations are implemented then that will have a greater impact. In many places, those recommendations have either been put into action or are in the process of implementation. If they are implemented vigorously then Muslims will definitely feel more confident.
Despite your robust defense, Congress does seem to have been politically cornered at the moment?
We are a ruling party. Do you expect us to implement the agenda of the opposition parties? We cannot run the way they want us to run. That is not possible. For example, I am the captain of my team, and my opponents tell me to play their kind of game. I am sorry. I am not going to oblige them. I will play my game, and I will play to win — not to lose. It is the job of the opposition parties to oppose everything. Whether the program is beneficial or not, their job is to criticize. If we pay heed to every criticism of theirs, then we will not be able to move forward. We are very confident about our programs and our time-tested values.
Here it is not the opposing team that is criticizing you; these are your fans. They have had high expectations from the party, and the party did not deliver all that it had promised.
It is not possible to implement all programs in one go. You cannot do it 100 percent. We have been calling for ending poverty for years and even decades; we have not been able to eradicate it fully. There is a change, but it is gradual. You can’t end it one fine morning. Take for instance the charges of corruption against our ministers and party men. Our party took a tough stand, and action was taken against those who were found wanting. Whether it was the 3G scam or Commonwealth corruption scandal, we took action. The government is fully alert and alive to the issues of the day. We are right on top.
You represent Moradabad in Parliament. What are the issues of your constituents? Are they different from the rest of the country?
The one major demand of the people in my constituency is that of the waiving of debt that the artisans owe to the government or banks. They are very hopeful that they will get relief similar to the one granted to farmers. You know that Moradabad is known for its brass industry, and these artisans were exporting their wares to Australia, UK, United States and other European countries. The exports have been badly hit; the market is down, and this has affected the artisans and that is why they are demanding the loan waiver. This is the main issue, and I am working to get them this relief.
You must be in constant touch with Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh and United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Chairperson Sonia Gandhi. Do you brief them on the issues that concern Muslims, and what is their feedback?
Yes, we interact frequently. If there is anything that needs to be brought to their attention we do. They take it in a very positive way. Madam Sonia and the prime minister do listen to us and give all the delegations a patient hearing, and then there is a follow up, as well. You get to know what has happened to your request and your suggestions. It is all very methodical.
You are known for being an aggressive batsman. You have always led from the front. It is often said about Prime Minister Singh that he is very reclusive — very quiet. Even when he is doing a good job, he doesn’t explain himself to the people at large …
Each individual has a different personality, a different outlook. Our prime minister is a good man. He is doing a good job. All this phenomenal economic growth that we have witnessed in India in the last 10 years, it is all because of him and his policies and his vision. This information technology revolution, educational revolution, it is all because of him. The prime minister has his advisers, and he seeks their opinion before making his stand public on such issues as the Delhi gang-rape or the Indo-Pakistan border troubles. On both the issues, the prime minister spoke very well. It is not possible for the prime minister to come out with a statement instantaneously. He has to take feedback from all the stakeholders before making a policy statement. He has been the prime minister for the last 10 years. He is very balanced and mature. You will not get a man like him. He is excellent. Don’t go by what the opposition tells you.
The Andhra Pradesh High Court recently dismissed charges of match-fixing against you and overturned the life ban that was imposed on you by the Indian cricket board. You must be feeling relieved, mustn’t you?
I was in Delhi when the judgment was delivered. Of course, I was very happy that after 12 long years I was finally exonerated. I don’t want to blame anyone for what has happened. Now that the court decision is out everyone knows the truth. It is a big relief. I spoke to my father and mother that day. They were very happy. All my fans were delighted. I want to thank them all for patiently standing by me during these trying times. They were as patient as I was. Patience is the best healer.
You said you don’t want to blame anyone, but your admirers feel that by not speaking out when the allegations were first made, you actually helped your detractors. Your silence was seen as an admission of guilt.
No, I was not silent. I said what all was to be said. There is no point in talking a lot. The case was before the courts. One has to be careful in not saying something that can be construed as a contempt of court. I was totally involved in the court hearings, so to suggest that I was quiet or silent is not accurate.
When the match-fixing allegations were first leveled and you were penalized by the board, you were at the peak of your cricketing career. You were the country’s most successful captain. Do you have any gripe or any grouse against those conspired against you?
What has happened has happened. What is done cannot be undone. There is no point in looking back and ruminating over the past. I am a forward-looking man. I want to look ahead; I want to put my past behind me. I want to make my country proud. I want to contribute to the game. I want to help the youngsters. I want to share my cricketing experience with the youngsters of the country. If I get a chance from the board then I will definitely deliver. It can be in any form, it can be coaching for youngsters, or something else. I can do a lot.
What next? The Indian board was to meet on your possible rehabilitation? It is almost two months since that judgment was delivered. What happened?
The board officials are still meeting. They have not come out with their decision as yet. They may have one or two more meetings before they decide on the next step.
What are your expectations?
It is the board’s decision. What they are going to do, only they will be able to tell you.
During the recent T-20 and One-Day matches, Pakistan played extremely well and defeated India in India. You must have been watching the games. Where did India go wrong?
I felt very bad. We played very bad cricket. Our batting was awful. Our overall performance was not good.
If you were in Indian Captain M.S. Dhoni’s position what would you have done?
It is very easy to make suggestions. What I feel is that we could have done well in batting. Our bowling, of course, is weak. That is our weak link. Our bowlers have suffered injuries. Zaheer Khan is injured. The newcomers tend to get injured frequently. Even if our batsmen had scored 300 runs, our bowlers are not good enough to defend that total. They don’t have experience. With time and experience, these young bowlers will come of age.
There is an increasing clamor that Dhoni should resign?
If we bring someone else as the Test captain, I think that will be ideal. We have been consistently losing the Test series. We are not getting the desired results. We are losing even on the home ground; on our turning wickets. I am not saying Dhoni has not done well, but I think it is about time to bring in a new Test captain. Someone else should be given that task. As far as One-Day Internationals are concerned, Dhoni has done exceptionally well.
You were known for your classic and stylish batting, especially the wrist-y shots. Is there anybody in the game in whom you see your reflection or your batting style?
I think there are two or three left-handed batsmen from Sri Lanka. They are very good. I can’t recall their names off-hand, but they are extremely good. I have watched their game. In India, among the new players Rohit Sharma is very good. He has to be consistent. He will make a good Test player.
Last night during the Dunes School’s foundation program, there was a question that was put to the audience as to how many Test centuries you scored. Someone said 22, and everyone looked in your direction to know if that was the right answer, and you looked lost. To us that indicated that records never mattered to you?
I never played for records. If I had played for records, then I would have had many more runs against my name. If by your performance the team wins then that is what is most gratifying. It is a very satisfying feeling. If I make a hundred and the country loses, that is not a good feeling — that is awful. Talking about records, if you keep playing for years then records will automatically be made. In any case, I don’t want to talk much about myself or my records. What I know is that Allah endowed me with a certain cricketing talent and I tried my best to project that. How far have I succeeded is for the people and the fans of the game to judge. Let the people decide.
Can you share the best moments that you have had in the game — moments that you still cherish?
The Hero Cup victory in 1993. For the first three years of my captainship I struggled, but when we started to win I started feeling better. Then we won the series against England and Sri Lanka. I especially loved the close matches. The one against Pakistan in Bangalore was full of tension. Once the match was over, it looked as if a heavy burden was taken off our chest. It was a World Cup quarterfinal and we won that match by 39 runs. I remember very few matches. I used to have some VHS tapes before, but now when some of these television channels air those classic encounters of the past I do watch them.
You are a quintessential Hyderabadi, but your political footing is in Moradabad. You must be aware of the political turmoil in Hyderabad? Akbaruddin Owaisi’s alleged hate speech and the subsequent arrest of the Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) leaders?
It is there in the newspapers and television. The situation is certainly not good. I don’t know in what context Akbaruddin Owaisi said what all he said, but he shouldn’t have said what he said.
You are pretty close to Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Kiran Kumar Reddy, you played cricket together …
He was my captain (in school).
Did he seek your advice on how to pacify the situation in Hyderabad?
I don’t talk a lot of politics with him. We recall good old days. Hyderabad should make progress, and Hyderabad is making good progress. Reddy Sahab has implemented many good programs. I hear people say the chief minister is not doing well, but that is not correct. His programs are very unique and impressive.
MIM, which is a dominant political force in Hyderabad and was until recently allied with Congress, alleges that Kiran Kumar Reddy is the second P.V. Narasimha Rao. Meaning he is as prejudiced against Muslims as the late prime minister allegedly was. All Indians, and specifically Indian Muslims, adore you. You represent them. What is your assessment of the chief minister?
It is wrong. “Ye ghalat baat hai, aisa nahi kehna chahiye.” I have known Reddy Sahab for a long, long time. We have been together since I was in Grade 9 in our school. He was in Grade 10. Nobody should make that kind of statement against him. He is doing his job. You can’t expect the chief minister to have all the solutions to all the problems. You can’t tell the chief minister to do something immediately. It takes time. He has to look at the pros and cons.
What is your take on carving out a separate state called Telangana out of Andhra Pradesh?
It is for our party high command to decide based on the available feedback, current situation and previous reports. It will take time.
There are suggestions that your party might field you from Hyderabad against MIM President Asaduddin Owaisi in the next parliamentary elections. Are these simply rumors or…?
People keep talking. Aisee baatein to hoti rehti. I don’t think Congress Party will take me away from Uttar Pradesh. People in UP love me a lot — 100 percent. I have worked a lot for them. I feel happy in Moradabad. I still cannot forget the first time I landed there to file my nomination papers for the Lok Sabha seat. The people of Moradabad welcomed me with open arms. It was a grand reception. Thousands turned up. I can never forget those pleasant memories and their affection toward me. It is this love that makes me work for them with great dedication.
Please accept our condolences to you on the death of your son Ayaz in a tragic speeding accident. Recently in Jubail, two youngsters drove off in their father’s car and met with an accident with tragic consequences. What will be your advice to those adrenaline-pumping youngsters who are reading this interview?
Driving is not safe. They should not speed. I think Facebook and other social media outlets have contributed to this speeding craze. Many youngsters speed and then take a snapshot of the speedometer and then post those pictures on their Facebook accounts boastfully. Other youngsters then try to outdo them by posting pictures of a speedometer showing 250 km/h record. Yes, life and death are in the hands of Allah, but we should be careful, we should take precautions, we should not speed. This is my request to all the youngsters.