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

An older brother CRICKET-CRAZY didn’t give him much of a career option by changing his name from Ajmal to Mohammed Azharuddeen. Moreover, he was originally from Thalangara, that rare town in Kerala on the outskirts of Kasaragod where children prefer to hit the ball with a bat rather than hit it.

But Azharuddeen knew he had to do something special to live up to the expectations of this brother, Kamaruddeen, a “longtime fan” of Indian big hitter Mohammad Azharuddin. Thalangara, too, had high hopes for their “Next Azhar”.

On Wednesday, the 26-year-old brought pride to his seven brothers, his hometown and an entire state.

He crushed a ton of 37 balls in a 137 of 54 balls against Mumbai, hitting nine fours and 11 sixes in the T20 Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy domestic match. It was the third fastest century in the T20 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 it bat,” Kamaruddeen says.

With video clips of Azharuddeen’s batting race via social media, Indian cricket circles couldn’t hide the excitement of hearing this familiar and popular name again. The hit high priest, Virender Sehwag, tweeted: “Wah Azharudeen, behtareen! To score like that against Mumbai was an effort. 137 * out of 54 and finishing the job in hand. I really liked this round.

Strong points:

It was a quality attack in Mumbai. But Azharuddeen sent former Indian stimulator Dhawal Kulkarni and new IPL 2020 star Tushar Deshpande over the fence to help Kerala pursue 196 with 4.1 overs to lose. The blow that resonated the most was a Rohit Sharma blow to the hips, a blow that requires a keen eye and perfect timing.

Tinu Yohannan, former India coach and Kerala coach: “I expected such a round from him, but not of this magnitude. I love his square leg shot. It’s good to watch and it’s not easy for bowlers… when they’re playing just a short length, getting hit over the defenseman is demoralizing.

While his coaches call him a natural swimmer, the role played by his seven brothers cannot be questioned – all have played cricket at the district level. “I was 25 and I was working in the Middle East when he was born. Since he was the youngest in our family, we would make him very happy. All his wishes have been granted, ”says Kamaruddeen.

Azharuddeen’s progress in age group cricket was so smooth that at the age of 15 he was admitted to the Kerala Cricket Association Academy in Kottayam dreaming of playing first class cricket. “Thalangara has a great ecosystem for budding cricketers. It’s a small town, but we have about 20 cricket clubs. It may sound surprising, but cricket is more popular here than football, ”says Unais, another brother.

Since Azaruddeen broke into the Kerala squad six seasons ago, he has been dubbed ‘Azhar in the making’. But with a top-class average of 25.91 after 22 games and an equally 23.76 average of 21 T20s, his performances have been disappointing. “He’s always been a big hitter. It’s just that it hasn’t been used for various reasons in a proper position. He was used all those years at No.6 and No.7, and it didn’t suit his game, ”Yohannan explains.

It was during the Covid lockdown that Azharudden seemed to have decided time was running out. “He called me during the lockdown when I was appointed coach and asked me where I would place him in the batting order. I had no doubts as I had always thought of opening with him in limited cricket overs. His mind was clear and he had no doubts, ”Yohannan said.

And now, with the IPL auction coming up next month, a nugget of data from this top-tier T20 tournament illustrates the tough climb ahead: West Indian Chris Gayle is sitting on top of that mountain – with 100 out of 30 balls. .

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