Out of the eighteen fours he struck in his innings, two against Paul Adams were badly miscued. Azharuddin had intended to hit them between the midwicket and the mid-on, but they crossed the fence between the third man and the deep backward point. From each stroke that he blasted that day on the Eden, emanated the ferocity of a wounded lion. For the manner in which Azhar scored his runs, he still owns bragging rights for that Test. Despite Man of the Match Gary Kirsten’s hundreds in each innings, and Zulu’s second innings haul of eight wickets for 64 runs on debut, Eden’96 is remembered for Azhar’s cross-batted heroics. India did lose the Kolkata Test by 329 runs, but the Hyderabadi genius revived his sagging fortunes and in process, scored the joint-fastest hundred (along with Kapil) for his country in 74 balls. That this record has survived the careers of Sehwag and Sachin, and still stands in the era of Pant, Pandya, Dhawan and Rohit, is no less astounding.
Azhar had lost his captaincy to Sachin after the summer tour of England. He was woefully out of form, and had not crossed fifty runs in his ten previous test innings. Eden had hooted him off during his last outing here, when India had been humiliated in the World Cup semi-final. Azhar’s decision to win the toss, and opt for chase had not gone down too well with the crowds. He had running fever a night before this test began. When he came in to bat at 3/77, a McMillan snorter hit on the arm, forcing him to retire hurt. Next day when he walked back into the middle, the score stood at 7/161. Donald welcomed him with a barrage of short-pitched deliveries. The plan was to bounce him out, and go for his head. Azhar was not known as the best of hookers. But boy, that day, did his willow flash, as he unveiled some whiplash pulls and hooks against the fastest bowler in the world.
The sick, injured, worried, disappointed Azhar did not plan to hold back for he knew that the arrival of Dravid, Ganguly and Laxman had led to calls for his axing. His bat hit strongly at whatever was hurled at him. This was not a flawless innings. Many shots were played without proper form and technique. But it was the combination of power, will, instinct and experience which led to the exhibition that followed. Donald, Klusener and McMillan kept aiming for his white helmet, and he kept playing his shots with abandon. The bullet quick outfield, express pace of Donald and Azhar’s in-your-face aggression made for compulsive watch. The debutant Zulu was struck for five consecutive fours with total disdain- all of them in the region between mid-on and mid-wicket. His fifty came off 35 balls, and hundred off 74. The crowd that had booed eight months back, now roared and clapped with sheer excitement. Azhar did not acknowledge their cheer, not after completing his ton, and not after walking back to the pavilion. Immediately after reaching three figures, he celebrated by hitting Adams off for a six over the cow corner. And then he drove straight into the hands of the same bowler. Poof, gone- the show was over.
The whole innings lasted merely 77 balls. Azhar and Kumble had added 161 runs in no time. Kumble, who chipped in with a useful 88, was the last man out. He had played the finest innings of his career (the Oval hundred in 2007 notwithstanding), laced with 13 fours. India were bundled out for 329. South Africa had earlier scored 428 runs in their first essay. Gary Kirsten (104) and Andrew Hudson (146) had added 236 runs for the first wicket. Venkatesh Prasad took six wickets for 104 runs.
Leading by 99 runs, the Proteas made mincemeat of Indian attack in their second innings. Kirsten’s 133 and Cullinan’s majestic 153* allowed them to declare at 3/367. Despite India’s leg side bowling tactics, the Saffers had ample time to bowl the opposition out and level the series. Azhar came out full guns blazing even in the second innings, and slammed 9 exquisite fours in his innings of 52 off 55 balls. India were all out for paltry 137 runs.
Back in form, Azhar scored a glorious 163* in the next test at Kanpur, as India won the series 2-1. He scored five more hundreds in his test career, before it was brutally cut short after his 99th test. Azhar was known for his beautiful wristwork and flicks on both sides of the wicket. But it is this uncharacteristically brutal Eden innings of 109 runs, which is most fondly remembered among Azharuddin’s test hundreds.
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#lanceklusener #alandonald #mcmillan #kumble #kanpur