Tribute to Abdul Azeem: He was dashing strokeplayer and upright sportsman

In the 1980s, Hyderabad cricket was blessed to have a galaxy of exciting strokemakers in its batting line up. Led by M.V. Narasimha Rao, Hyderabad won the Ranji trophy and the Irani Trophy in the 1986-1987 season. Foremost among the Hyderabad batters was the hard hitting Abdul Azeem whose shots could send the ball like a bullet to the boundary line. The best bowlers in India were afraid when Abdul Azeem got going. There was a well known saying among all teams in those days. They used to say: “Azeem miya ka hath set ho gaya, to Hyderabad ki jeet pakki.” The dashing opening batsman passed away on Tuesday and left his admirers in sorrow. He had been suffering from a kidney ailment for a few months and finally lost the battle.

In the dressing room he was a quiet person. He preferred to find a corner chair where he could remain unobserved. He spoke when someone else spoke to him. Otherwise he stayed absolutely silent. That was his personality. But put a bat in his hands and he transformed into a rampaging run scorer who forced all rival bowlers to look for cover. The audacity of his shots was astonishing and he packed immense power behind every hit.

He was the first player from the south zone and the seventh Indian batsman to score a triple century in the Ranji trophy championship (versus Tamil Nadu). In a 15-year career for the Hyderabad team he scored 4644 runs in first class cricket. He was unlucky never to have been considered for the Indian team. Had he been born several years later and taken part in the IPL, he would have been a great success.

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Azeem hailed from a family of cricket players. There were seven brothers and two of them namely Abdul Azeem and Abdul Jabbar carved out very successful careers in domestic cricket. While Jabbar represented Tamil Nadu, Azeem rose to the top while playing for his home state of Hyderabad. He was a batsman who was never afraid to play his shots and cared little for the reputation of the bowler who was bowling to him even if it was Kapil Dev or Manoj Prabhakar.

That devil-may-care bravery was possessed by very few batsmen in India. Yet he was always humble. Aiming for big name and fame was not in his mental makeup. He told journalist Sudheer Mahavadi once: “I always played because of my passion for the game. I never had dreams of making it big or becoming famous, Cricket mera shauq tha. Aur kuch  nahin.”

India’s batting maestro G.R. Vishwanath once described Azeem thus: “He was an aggressive batsman and a class entertainer who enjoyed the game himself and made the spectators enjoy it too.”

Later Azeem became a coach and helped Mohammed Siraj to reach the level he has reached now. Azeem was also a selector for the junior team. His upright principles compelled him to resign from the post when he found that the correct procedures were not being followed in the selection process of the HCA.

“I have resigned because I was unhappy with the way things were being done in the HCA. How can you select players without watching their game? You cannot just see score-sheets and make your decision. You should take the trouble and go to the grounds and watch the juniors playing. Then only can you justify your decision. There were other aspects too which were not correct. But my suggestions on these matters were falling on deaf ears. How long could I see such things going on? My conscience was troubling me. I could not sleep at night. Hence I finally resigned,” said Azeem.

These days when Hyderabad cricket is plunging to new depths every year, perhaps what is needed are a few good men like Abdul Azeem. He was an excellent batter and an upright sportsman. Hyderabad has lost an asset who will always be remembered by his numerous fans.

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