‘Next Azhar’ is a 26-year-old power hitter from Kerala: 100 in 37 balls

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A CRICKET-CRAZY elder brother didn’t give him a lot of a profession choice by getting him to alter his identify from Ajmal to Mohammed Azharuddeen. Moreover, he hailed from Thalangara, that uncommon city in Kerala on the outskirts of Kasaragod the place kids favor to hit the ball with a bat and never kick it.

But Azharuddeen knew he wanted to do one thing particular to reside as much as the expectations of that brother, Kamaruddeen, a “lifelong fan” of Indian batting nice Mohammad Azharuddin. Thalangara, too, had excessive hopes from their “Next Azhar”.

On Wednesday, the 26-year-old made his seven brothers, his house city and a complete state proud.

He smashed a 37-ball ton throughout a 54-ball 137 towards Mumbai, hitting 9 fours and 11 sixes in the home T20 Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy recreation. It was the third-fastest T20 century by an Indian after Rishabh Pant (32 balls) and Rohit Sharma (35 balls).

“Not just us, but the whole of Thalangara was glued to the TV to watch him bat,” says Kamaruddeen.

With video clips of Azharuddeen’s batting racing by social media, India cricket circles couldn’t cover the thrill of listening to that acquainted and in style identify as soon as once more. The excessive priest of big-hitting, Virender Sehwag, tweeted: “Wah Azharudeen, behtareen! To score like that against Mumbai was some effort. 137* of 54 and finishing the job on hand. Enjoyed this innings.”

It was a high quality Mumbai assault. But Azharuddeen dispatched former India pacer Dhawal Kulkarni and IPL 2020’s new star Tushar Deshpande over the fence to assist Kerala chase 196 with 4.1 overs to spare. The one blow that resonated probably the most was a Rohit Sharma-like flick off the hips, a shot that wants a sharp eye and ideal timing.

Says former India pacer and Kerala coach Tinu Yohannan: “I was expecting such an innings from him but not of this magnitude. I love his pick-up shot over square-leg. It is good to watch and is not easy for the bowlers… when they bowl just short of a length, to be hit over the fielder is demoralising.”

While his coaches name him a pure strokeplayer, the function performed by his seven brothers can’t be undermined — all of them have performed cricket on the district degree. “I was 25 and working in the Middle East when he was born. Since he was the youngest in our family, we would indulge him quite a lot. All his wishes were fulfilled,” says Kamaruddeen.

So seamless was Azharuddeen’s progress by age-group cricket, that by the point he was 15, he was admitted to the Kerala Cricket Association Academy in Kottayam, dreaming of enjoying first-class cricket. “Thalangara has a very good ecosystem for budding cricketers. It’s a small town, but we have around 20 cricket clubs. It may sound surprising, but cricket is more popular here than football,” says Unais, one other brother.

Ever since Azaruddeen broke into the Kerala squad six seasons in the past, he has been dubbed as “Azhar in the making”. But with a first-class common of 25.91 after 22 video games, and an equally middling common of 23.76 from 21 T20s, his returns had been underwhelming. “He has always been a big hitter. It is just that he was not used for various reasons in an appropriate position. He was used down the order all these years at No.6 and No.7, and that did not suit his game,” says Yohannan.

It was in the course of the Covid lockdown that Azharudden appeared to have determined that point was operating out. “He called me during the lockdown when I was appointed coach and asked where I would slot him in the batting order. I had no doubt because I had always thought of opening with him in limited overs cricket. His mind was clear and he didn’t have any doubts,” says Yohannan.

And now, with the IPL public sale arising subsequent month, a knowledge nugget from that high-profile T20 event illustrates the arduous climb forward: West Indian nice Chris Gayle sits on the highest of that mountain — with 100 in 30 balls.

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