Apart from his swashbuckling knock, it was his name, which is the same (only spelt differently) as former India captain Mohammad Azbharuddin that caught people’s attention.
The 26-year-old Azharuddeen hails from Kerala’s Kasaragod town and is the youngest of eight brothers. All the brothers are passionate about cricket and all of them harboured dreams of playing cricket professionally. However, Azharuddeen’s seven older brothers could only play up to the club level. He is the only one in the family who managed to reach the state level and represent Kerala.
Azharuddeen’s journey hasn’t been an easy one. At a time when he was making his name in the junior circuit, he lost his mother and then his father. It was one of his older brothers, Unais, who helped him chase his dreams. Unais sacrificed everything to give Azharuddeen the wings to fly.
“I have seven older brothers. I am the eighth one. I lost my father at the age of 15 and my mother at the age of 20. So, I am staying with my brother (Unais) for the last many years. He took care of me like a baby and did everything for me. He runs an artificial jewellery shop. He has done everything to help me chase my dreams. Whatever I am today that is because of him. Everyone played cricket in my family till club level. They are all very passionate about cricket. I am the only one who could make it to the state level and I am hopeful of wearing an India jersey someday,” Azharuddeen told Timesofindia.com in an exclusive interview.
THE STORY BEHIND THE NAME
When Azharuddeen was born, his parents were discussing some names for the youngest member of the family. One of his older brothers, Kamaruddin, who is a die-hard fan of former India captain Mohammad Azharuddin was adamant about naming his youngest brother after the batting legend.
“All my brothers are huge fans of Sachin (Tendulkar) sir. They are mad about him. There was a time when if Sachin sir got out, they would turn off the television. But one of my older brothers, Kamaruddin, is a huge Azhar sir fan. He convinced my parents to name me Azharuddeen. He didn’t keep the same spelling, but wanted the same name. That’s how I got this name,” the 26-year-old further said.
Azharuddeen, fondly called ‘Junior Azhar’ by his friends, team-mates and in his locality, has in fact met his namesake, the ‘senior Azhar’ twice. And, the youngster shared how he described the story behind his name to the former India batting legend.
“He is a legend of the game. I have met him twice. Once, he came to my hometown Kasaragod to attend a marriage function, five years back. I met him there for the first time. I wasn’t aware that he already knew about me. I had a good 2016 season and I scored a lot of runs in the domestic circuit. He was impressed with my batting and heard that there is another Azhar who plays for Kerala. When he met me for the first time, I said ‘hello sir, my name is Azhar’. He replied saying, ‘I know, I have heard a lot about you, I am also Azhar.’ He told me that he was following my game. He gave some tips that I will always remember. He is a legend of the game. I am also Azhar and want to make a name for myself in Indian cricket,” the junior Azhar told TimesofIndia.com.
“Last year, I met him (Mohammad Azhruddin) in Hyderabad during a Kerala Ranji Trophy game. I had a good batting session with him. Such a genius he is. He asked me the story behind my name. I explained to him. He smiled and said all the best,” Azharuddeen said.
AZHARUDDEEN’S ROLE MODELS
Azharuddeen takes inspiration from his state team-mate Sanju Samson. He wants to follow in Sanju’s footsteps.
“Sanju is my role model. I love to emulate him. Whatever tips he gives me, I follow the same. He is an amazing batsman, wicketkeeper, and fielder too. His work ethic and the way he carries himself is just amazing. He is a gifted cricketer and I follow him religiously,” he said.
“I am also a wicketkeeper-batsman and so is Sanju. So, whatever he tells me, I can connect with” Azharuddeen, who scored 214 runs in 5 innings, at an average of 53.50 in the recently concluded Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy said.
JUNIOR AZHAR’S IPL DREAMS
Azharuddeen scored an unbeaten 137 off just 54 balls to help Kerala chase a massive target of 197 runs against a top team like Mumbai and that too in their own den at the Wankhede Stadium during the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy. He pulverised the Mumbai bowling attack with ease and smashed nine boundaries and 11 sixes in his knock.
Thanks to that whirlwind knock, the wicket-keeper batsman will be going under the hammer at the IPL 2021 player auction on February 18, at a base price of Rs. 20 lakh.
“I am so excited that my name is there (in the IPL auction player list). If I deserve it, I will be picked. But my ultimate aim is to play for India,” the 26-year-old told TimesofIndia.com.
“That knock (century vs Mumbai) has given me a lot of confidence going forward. The knock has made me realise that I have enough potential to play higher level cricket. For me, it is just a start, and I have to go a long way and have to learn a lot of things in my cricketing career. I have worked very hard in my career so far and will continue to do the same. I have a few shots that other batsmen cannot play. I play on the rise shots, especially against fast bowlers. That’s my biggest strength. I just back my strength and my instincts,” he said.
TAKING TIPS FROM ROBIN UTHAPPA & SREESANTH
Apart from Sanju, Azharuddeen also credited his senior team-mates S Sreesanth and Robin Uthappa (who moved from Saurashtra to Kerala in domestic cricket ahead of the 2019-20 season) for guiding him.
“I want to give credit to Sree bhai (Sreesanth), Robin bhai (Robin Uthappa), and Sanju as well. Whenever I need Sree’s bhai help, he is always there. There were occasions when I needed his help and he was always there for support. He always says ‘Azhar you are a superb batsman, just go and express yourself and don’t think about selection’. He has motivated me a lot,” Azharudden further said.
“Robin (Robin Uthappa) bhai has helped me a lot during net sessions. He has spoken to me about technical things that I need to keep in mind while batting. The best thing I learnt from him is how to rotate strike. He makes batting look so easy,” Azharuddeen signed off.