The woods are lovely dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
These famous lines by the Scottish poet Robert Burns aptly describe the situation in which Mohammed Azharuddin, President of the Hyderabad Cricket Association, now finds himself.
The man, whose wristy flicks enthralled the world, now has an uphill task on his hands but is willing to take the bull by the horns and apply himself to the job wholeheartedly. In a candid and wide ranging interview to siasat.com he outlined his approach and his plans to improve cricket in Hyderabad.
Question: What are your plans to take the game forward in Hyderabad? We have seen a lot of disagreement within the HCA regarding appointment of the Ombudsman. But players and fans want a peaceful and constructive atmosphere. What is your vision of the future and how do you plan to resolve the conflicting issues and develop cricket?
Answer: “Well, what I say is that everyone must work together and follow the rules. Without cooperation, there can be no progress. All the people in the HCA are experienced and everyone knows his responsibilities. So everyone should come on board and work together to bring about an atmosphere where the game will progress. The game is bigger than each one of us so we must focus on cricket and nothing else. At present all the talk is about many things other than cricket. We must all get back to talking and planning about the game.”
Q: There have been allegations of widespread corruption and malpractices in the selection of teams and other aspects. How are you planning to eradicate these misdeeds?
A: We will go strictly by the rules and any player or umpire or group of individuals found indulging in crooked practices will find themselves out of the picture and cooling their heels in their own houses or even in the custody of the law. All forms of corruption will be stamped out with a heavy hand, I promise you. You will see some positive changes very soon and the game will be played in a fair and square manner. The club secretaries should realise that their players are of utmost importance. I would urge all clubs to focus on developing the careers of their players. When I was an upcoming player, I was promoted by my school, then my college (Nizam College) and my club Deccan Blues. It is because of the help I received in my young days that I could play for the Under-19 side and climb up the ladder step by step. All players can come up only by playing for the affiliated clubs. The club officials must nurture them and promote them. That is how it should go for every young cricketer in Hyderabad. We will ensure that there is transparency and honesty in the system.
Q: A fair amount of time has passed since you took charge as President of the HCA. Why is there a delay in implementing the ideas?
A: The Coronavirus issue has been a big setback. It is difficult to get any work done or conduct any cricket events because of the complexities that it has created. It is something that my predecessors never had to face. It created a completely new situation for all of us. I had taken charge and was taking stock of the situation when the Coronavirus struck. As we all know, the entire country came under a lockdown and all work came to a grinding halt. We had to abide by the new restrictive rules. Difficulties arose when holding meetings. Even now it is difficult to contact people when you need them. They are unavailable much of the time. Right now the second wave has engulfed us all. Sometimes people Test positive. Then they have to go into quarantine. At every step there is some difficulty or the other. But I am hopeful that after a few months things will normalise and we will be able to implement the plans that we have in mind.
Q: The young players of Hyderabad need to be encouraged. They need top class coaching and infrastructure. Only those states will progress which can unearth and develop talent. What will HCA do about this and how will Hyderabad regain its status as one of the better teams in India?
A: Yes, my dream is to take Hyderabad to the top. We must conduct camps and tap talent from the grassroots level. I have plans that will spot talent from an early age. Quite often I find that boys who do well in some junior level tournaments are not really that good. When I make them play in the nets and watch them, I find that some can’t even connect the balls that are bowled to them. I can see that their technique is wrong. We have to separate the grain from the chaff. As for infrastructure, I agree that facilities need to be improved all over Hyderabad. Some grounds are good but some are in a pathetic state. We need to have better grounds so that young players can develop their talent and their game can flourish. Even at the Rajiv Gandhi stadium in Uppal a lot of work needs to be done before we can host a big match. We have been given the opportunity to hold the T20 World Cup but we have to put in a lot of work before that.
Q: Since you began your career, in what way has Hyderabad changed as far as the game of cricket is concerned? Before the Rajiv Gandhi stadium was constructed, all matches were conducted at the Lal Bahadur stadium. How do you compare the old ground with the new one?
A: The Fateh Maidan ground (Lal Bahadur stadium) was a good venue. It has a special place in my heart. There used to be so much sports activity there. I would love to see the ground restored to its previous eminence. If I have the opportunity I will make the LBS ground important again. I have fond memories of watching so many famous players there. Like Clive Lloyd, Gordon Greenidge, Andy Roberts, Keith Fletcher, Sunny Gavaskar, Karsan Ghavri, Gundappa Viswanath and many others. The Sri Lankan team used to take part in the Moin Ud Dowla tournament and we used to see players like Roy Dias, David Heyn, Tony Opatha and others. I used to sit in the stands and watch them play. My favourite player back then was Greg Chappell. And I used to love listening to the Aussie commentator Alan McGilvray. But now all that has changed after the scene shifted to the Uppal stadium. Each stadium has its own ambience and this one is different from Fateh Maidan.
Q: The Coronavirus issue has affected all cricket tournaments in a very substantial manner. What is your outlook about the forthcoming domestic season?
A: Well, I hope that the Coronavirus problem will subside by the time the Ranji season of 2021 begins. I pray that this year things will be better and we will see a more fruitful domestic season wherein players will be able to display their merit exhaustively. The BCCI is planning to start the domestic season in September and the Ranji trophy is scheduled to be held from December to March. Although we are not yet out of the woods, the second wave has caught everyone by surprise. I have been told that some of our ground staff have been affected. So yes, there are problems, but we must hope for the best and plan ahead for the future. With the right planning and approach, there is every reason to expect that Hyderabad cricket will once again be a significant force in domestic competitions and that we will produce more international level players.
Abhijit Sen Gupta is a seasoned journalist who writes on Sports and various other subjects.