5 forgotten victories of India under Mohammad Azharuddin's captaincy
Before the infamous match-fixing episode tarnished his legacy, Mohammad Azharuddin's stature in Indian cricket was akin to a folk-hero in a parable. If his sinewy stroke-play made you fall in love with batting, the charismatic cricketer's astonishing catching and inimitable nonchalance elevated his personality to another level.
During the 90s, the mantle of captaincy exchanged hands between him and Sachin Tendulkar on a frequent basis. When it was with the stylish Hyderabadi, he converted India into an impregnable fortress.
Although his laid-back leadership often resulted in heavy defeats for India outside their comfort zone, Azharuddin oversaw a period of tremendous success on home soil. Let us take a close look at five of the most underrated victories in the elegant right-hander's captaincy career across both Tests and ODIs.
#5 Against South Africa in Calcutta (1993 Hero Cup Semi-Final)
It was the semi-final of a major tournament played out in front of a packed Eden Gardens. Defending just six runs off the last over, one would think that the obvious choice of stepping up to the plate would befall on a reliable seam bowler. India had three of them, a rarity then. If Javagal Srinath was at his quickest, Kapil Dev's effectiveness with the white-ball stood undiminished by the vagaries of time. Manoj Prabhakar's steady mix of canny cutters and slower yorkers also remained in the arsenal. Yet, the challenge was entrusted with Tendulkar and his seemingly innocuous medley of variations.
The part-time bowler, who often switched between seam-up and leg-breaks, ran to his skipper in earnest and threw his hat in the ring. Bemused by the then 20-year old's confidence, Azharuddin gave him the go-ahead to the disbelief of the partisan crowd. Perhaps off-set by the unexpected opponent, the South African batsmen implored in spectacular fashion.
A suicidal second run consumed Fanie de Villiers in the first delivery of the last over. The Indians breathed a sigh of relief as the well-set Brian McMillan was stuck at the non-striker's end. Tendulkar maintained a stranglehold on Allan Donald by targeting the fuller length. When the fast bowler finally managed to get off the strike, he had left McMillan with a mountain to climb. With four runs needed for victory, the right-hander could not connect with his almighty slog. India progressed to the final and proceeded to lift the Hero Cup on the back of a convincing performance against West Indies.
Brief Scores: India - 195 from 50 overs (Mohammad Azharuddin 90, Pravin Amre 48, Fanie de Villiers 3/19, Richard Snell 3/33); South Africa - 193/9 from 50 overs (Andrew Hudson 62, Brian McMillan 48*, Anil Kumble 2/29)
Result - India won by 2 runs