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Has the cbi report on match-fixing and the bcci's decision to hand out a life ban ended one of the most dazzling cricket careers in India? Is this the last word on the game's most successful captain? Not really. It has been over a month since bcci president A.C. Muthiah announced his verdict. While Ajay Jadeja has been vocal against the pronouncement, Mohammed Azharuddin continues to lie low in Hyderabad. Though Azhar's lawyers have promised to move the court and fight his case to the finish, there has not been a word from the Hyderabad lad himself.
But the import of the ban has slowly sunk in, galvanising some into action. Some of his close associates and relatives are beginning to stand up for Azhar, stoutly maintaining that he is innocent and had been made a scapegoat. "Can one person alone fix matches? How can he be singled out? There is surely a conspiracy and we will expose it," exclaims a confidant. The "Save Azhar" momentum in Hyderabad is gradually building up. Says one cricketer, "We only have the cbi's word that Azhar "did" matches? How can one go by that alone? It is absurd." In fact, once Azhar moves court, many feel the truth will come out in the open and the real churning will begin.
Even former India captain Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, in a recent column, said: "I suspect why the bcci demurred (on the ban) will become apparent if Azhar carries his intent to seek legal retaliation to the finish." Pataudi further states: "There are not many people in this country who are prepared to accept that the bcci or any of its associates or representatives, if not actually involved, were unaware of the rotten smell that lingered about them." Clearly, the probes are far from over. The chapter on Azhar could well reopen shortly. According to some of his associates in Hyderabad, the income-tax probe against him would reach 'nowhere'. "Everyone says he has unaccounted monies and properties. It's absolute humbug and there is no truth to these allegations," says a friend. They point out that all of Azhar's earnings have solely come through match fees and endorsements during his long career and that his tax returns would confirm it. Sources also say the Enforcement Directorate's moves to unearth his reported foreign accounts had drawn a blank. "That's because there are none. Why are we painting him out to be a demon? At heart, he's a simple person," says a friend.
In one of his more memorable interviews, Azhar had said: "I think money is very important. But there is no point in making money if you can't help others. Money just for yourself is no good and I think one should do a lot for charity." That seemed true. In his home city, Azhar's reputation of being a charitable and generous person is legion. "What kind of person would give away
Rs 15,000 to a stranger who approached him for help?" says a former colleague. During his visits to the Hyderabad Cricket Association (hca) ground, Azhar would tell promising cricketers to pick up whatever equipment they wanted from his kit bag. Moreover, on numerous occasions, he has even sent many poor Muslims for the Haj on his expense.
Known to be a person who accepts failure and success philosophically, Azhar may not accept his present plight with the same sense of fatalism. "He knows that he has been wronged. After giving cricket, the pillar of his life, more than 100 per cent he does not want to go down in history with this slur on his name," says a friend. For the moment Azhar is still keeping to himself. But that may soon change.
By our correspondent