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From 22 yards to Parliament

VIJAY LOKAPALLY
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CHATLINEKirti Azad shares the joys of life on a cricket field and beyond

A CRICKETER AT HEARTKirti AzadPhoto: R.V. Moorthy
A CRICKETER AT HEARTKirti AzadPhoto: R.V. Moorthy

He had seen a portrait of Victor Trumper, a long forward stride to meet the ball and the bat swinging in from the sky. It stuck with him and became part of his cricket grooming. He wanted to hit the ball in the same fashion.

When Kirti Azad smashed the ball, it almost went into space. Many a time the ball was lost, and tournament organisers would keep spare balls whenever Azad was batting. He was aggressive, wild, short-tempered… Today he is a sharp contrast of that image — polite to a fault and much-mellowed in matters of life.

Shouldering responsibility

As a Member of Parliament, Azad carries responsibility on his shoulders. “I want to serve people. I have seen so much in life, in cricket, and otherwise,” says the former Test cricketer, member of the 1983 World Cup winning team and a sitting Lok Sabha member from Darbhanga.

His father, former Bihar Chief Minister Bhagwat Jha Azad, played volleyball. “Sport was in my blood,” recalls Azad. He would follow his elder brother to the National Stadium with a plastic bat, and have his own training sessions. Good at badminton, Azad chose cricket and never looked back. A hard-hitting batsman, Azad played only seven Tests and 25 ODIs, leaving many disappointed. “He was worth more,” laments former India captain Kapil Dev.

However, Azad confesses: “I didn't do justice to my cricketing abilities. I was talented, but then I made mistakes. Today, when I tell the young cricketers to remember dedication, desire, determination and discipline, I am only making up for past mistakes. I was a non-conformist, but if I just keep regretting my wild ways now then life would be meaningless. We all take a lesson from the mistakes, and I perform my penance by guiding the youngsters.”

His political commitments leave him with little time to watch cricket, but he does try to update himself. “I followed the World Cup closely. I wanted India to win the Cup. Hats off to Dhoni! He is a street-smart cricketer, and has done wonders. There can't be greater joy and pride than doing a job for the country.”

His best moment? “Winning the World Cup and the day-night game (Prime Minister's Relief Fund) at the Nehru Stadium against Pakistan (in 1983). We rose from the brink.” It was the first day-night match ever, and Azad cracked an unbeaten 71 (six fours and four sixes). Even charity matches between India and Pakistan were played with all seriousness those days.

He could have been a splendid T20 cricketer, given his penchant for big hitting. “Maybe, may be not; but what is T20 cricket? It is like the two-minute noodle, fast food, but not at all nutritious. I laugh when they talk of strategy in T20. You are all out in 20 overs. That is bad batting. More than 400 sixes slammed in one tournament. That is bad bowling. To me, it is bad cricket. I am really saddened to see that in the times to come, the youth will be attracted to the concept of club over country.”

Natural transition

His transition from cricket to politics was “natural”. His father represented Congress, but Azad was more fascinated by the personalities of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani. “I am a cricketer at heart and a politician by choice. I followed in my father's footsteps. He did not stop me from joining BJP. I remember going to Parliament indhoti-kurta-paag,and taking my oath in Maithili,” recalled Azad, who was first elected to Delhi Legislative Assembly in 1993 from Gole Market constituency. “In fact I was MLA when I played my last first-class match.”

VIJAY LOKAPALLY

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