As a child growing up in India in the 90's, I couldn't help but be mesmerised by the great game of cricket, and Mohammad Azharuddin had a lot to do with that.
Growing up I remember watching some great innings from him and I must admit, probably up until the time the match fixing scandal broke he was my favourite player, even with Tendulkar racking up century after century. It was never the number of runs he scored that mattered, but just the majestic way in which he scored them that made me a keen admirer of his.
There was always an air of calmness and a sense of stability when he was at the crease, and yet some of his shots were played with impossible carelessness. The ease with which he played those leg side flicks and dragged balls from way outside his off stump to pierce the often packed leg side field was almost poetry in motion.
He came into international cricket with a bang, scoring three centuries in his first three tests. And he went out with a bang, almost as big if not bigger, breaking many hearts, including mine. At the time I felt cheated, I felt betrayed, and all those beautiful afternoons spent watching him bat felt like a big lie.
The revelation that my then favourite cricketer indulged in match fixing just to make some quick money, when he had the whole of India almost at his feet, when he was held in such high regard, made no sense to me. Banned from international cricket for life for his mistakes no doubt was the right decision, but now just leaves me with thoughts of "What if?"
He was in the peak of his career, even scoring a century in his last game, and having played 99 tests, he looked good for many more. He was on the brink of greatness, and had he played another 50 tests, we would have been counting him among one of India's finest ever.
I bet he knows he let himself down, though somehow somewhere we must acknowledge that the BCCI officials, his seniors on the team and the fans, too let him down. A small-town teenage boy, getting instant recognition, fame and money, he needed to be handled carefully. He needed a mentor, a guide to bring him on the right path early when he showed signs of straying.
Even now with the likes of Kohli, Rohit and Ishant Sharma, we are repeating the same mistakes, and I won't be surprised to see them go astray as well. Lessons need to be learned from Azhars' life, and who better to teach these young kids than Azhar himself.
After lots of thinking, careful consideration, a big bout of nostalgia and a decade of hating him, I am ready to forgive him for his sins. In my opinion, he has paid the price for his mistakes, and we should allow him the opportunity for redemption. Azhar was a true champion, and for all the joy he brought to me in my early childhood, he is still my champion.
Are you ready to move on and forgive him?
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