CHATLINEKirti Azad shares the joys of life on the cricket field and beyond withVIJAY LOKAPALLY
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.
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,” recalled 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.
Looking back, 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 past 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 (MS) 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 times to come the youth will be attracted to the concept of club over country.”
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 politician by choice. I followed in my father's footsteps. He did not stop me from joining BJP. I remember going to Parliament in dhoti-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.”
Azad was elected to Lok Sabha from his ancestral land, Darbhanga. “My father's honesty is my driving force. I admire Nitish Kumar for his splendid work in Bihar, education for girl child, crime-free atmosphere and progressive steps to make us all proud.”
He has lived his life in Delhi. “Bihar is my janmabhoomi but Delhi is the karmabhoomi. I have been a Dilliwala as anyone else. I studied at Modern School and St. Stephen's. We lived at 209, North Avenue from my birth (1959) to 1967 and then 7, Ashoka Road from 1967 to 1992.”
The former India all-rounder has not forgotten those lovely days when he grew up in a quiet and safe Delhi. “I would go to school on a cycle. There was no TV or fridge at home. So, running to the North Avenue Club to get ice was a frequent errand every day. There was little traffic and our house (at Ashoka Road) was like a farm house of today. My cricketing friend (Zeeshan Mohammad) and I would cycle to play tournaments far away, taking turns to ride. An auto drive was a luxury even though the meter would start at a mere 15 paise. Travelling in auto with my friend, Binoj Trehan (child artiste Master Babloo), to have pizzas in Connaught Place was a memorable experience, 90-paise for the auto and 20 rupees for the pizza. Of course, he used to pay. It was great fun.”
The Delhi of today, Azad, 52, notes, is too commercial and westernised. “All that we have, malls, Metro, multiplexes, don't cater to the majority of the people. How many can afford the air-conditioned comforts? The Capital is just not safe for women, kids and elderly citizens. Road rage incidents are so scary. Traffic sense and civic sense are alarmingly low. This is not the Delhi I grew up in. but I still love Delhi.”