Former Ranji opener Abdul Azeem recalls the time when players played for passion and pride

Hyderabad won the Ranji Trophy for only the second time in the history of the championship in the 1986-87 season and never again. So when Abdul Azeem, now chairman of Hyderabad Ranji selection panel, looks back with a sense of pride, he has every reason to do so. This dashing opener of yesteryears had scored a century (114) in the final against Delhi when Hyderabad clinched the issue against an attack which had the likes of Atul Wassan, Sanjeev Sharma and Mohinder Amarnath. “I still believe that it was the best innings I ever played,” says Azeem even as he keeps his fingers crossed as the current team is battling against Rajasthan in the ongoing quarter-final at Rajiv Gandhi Stadium, Uppal (January 2 to 5).

“We played with sheer passion for pride. The secret of our success in 1987 was that everyone chipped in crunch time throughout that season,” 51-year-old Azeem recalls. Significantly, there were neither strategy meetings, nor did the team have a coach or support staff asmany current teams have now. “Every member of that team responded to a given crisis in style. We did not curb our natural game even while we enjoyed every bit of the pressure,” he recalls.

The current generation of youngsters may be awed by the flamboyance of Virender Sehwag, but the fans of yesteryears remind us that Azeem batted in a similar fashion and with a great degree of success . “I was never scared of any bowler or the reputations. I always went out with a very positive frame of mind. If there is a loose ball, it was meant to be hit,” was Azeem's philosophy.

But again, this dashing former Ranji opener had his brush with the other side of luck during his 73-match Ranji career which featured 4000-plus runs, 12 centuries including a triple against Tamil Nadu besides a double century. Interestingly, he was the first one to score a Ranji triple from South.

For someone who scored 900-plus Azeem did not even figure in the South Zone Duleep Trophy in that 1986-87 season. “Yes, that was terribly disappointing. The fact that I got just one Duleep Trophy despite being so prolific in Ranji Trophy does hurt me,” says a thoughtful Azeem. He was also a member of the Hyderabad Ranji team which scored that record-breaking highest score of 944 against Andhra. “I remember getting out for 86. Otherwise I would have set a unique record of hitting five consecutive tons against one team (Andhra),” he says with a big smile.

That Azeem didn't play for records was pretty obvious for all those who had seen him play, for he reached his 200-mark with a six and the 300-mark with a four during that 303 against Tamil Nadu in a Ranji game. Azeem is grateful to his first coach A. R. Bhupathi whom he rates very highly.

A gentleman cricketer who admires former India captain and one of the original geniuses of batting Gundappa Viswanath, Azeem has always been a picture of no-nonsense approach to whatever job he was assigned.He belongs to a time when even a Ranji Trophy winning team was denied the privilege to fly back home from Delhi in 1987. No wonder Azeem, who retired as Assistant Manager with State Bank of India, doesn't have any regrets when he looks back.

Keywords: Ranji Trophy