After Vinod Ganpat Kambli’s recent allegation that I was guilty of match-fixing, friends and fans have been calling up inquiring if all this was true. Well, I know I should have admitted this long ago but not many people know that match-fixing (that’s what we called it) has been an obsession with me ever since my days at the All Saints High School, Hyderabad. There were friends and relatives (who I won’t name) who were kinky enough to snap matchsticks and then pass on boxes of them to me. And yours truly, with the patience shown when batting on a difficult wicket, would use adhesives and restore the matchsticks. Thus was born the legend (among the privileged few) of Azhar the match-fixer. “If we are the match-breakers, then Azoo is the match-fixer,” was a refrain I would hear even before I had outgrown my shorts.
Later, when I progressed (thanks to my cricketing skills) from Hyderabad to the world stage, I did not give up my old pastime. So, in a manner of speaking, I won’t deny Kambli’s charge that I am a match-fixer. Why, he should know because in his time he has done sufficient damage to matchsticks and sought my fixing skills. I tell you, if there was a match-breaker, that was him! Incidentally, Lord Paul Condon of the ICC’s anti-corruption and security unit, who also talked of match-fixing, was mean to matchsticks too. I remember one morning at Lord’s when he strolled up to me and inquired whether I could fix a box of broken sticks. Apparently, he had just returned from Haiti where he had gone to study how Haitians played the gentleman’s game, only to discover that survival was a much bigger game there. “With nothing coming out of the trip, I bought some matchboxes and broke the sticks on the flight back home,” he confessed even as I promised to help after stumps that day. Of course, given that he’s a busy man, Lord Condon may not even remember the incident.
Anyway, out of the blue I got a call from Kambli. He was apologetic and in tears. “Azharbhai, I hope you’ll forgive me. I have great regard for you. Remember that day in Sharjah when you told me that joke about the best dates being found on palms. I still laugh every time I think of it.” Well, I assured him that all is forgiven. “People say the craziest things when they are in a TV studio,” I told him, adding that “as an old match-breaker” he should “go easy on fixers.”
Finally, you may wonder whether I still have not gone beyond breaking and fixing matchsticks. The good news is that in fact I have. Bowing to popular demand and inspired by a clutch of Hyderabadis who still believe in love and the institution of marriage, I have decided to open an exclusive matrimonial service for professional cricketers. That sure will be fixing matches at a very different level. And, as any practitioner of the great game will tell you, catches win matches!
(As imagined by Ajith Pillai)