Mohammad Azharuddin and Navjot Sidhu - I won't play with you anymore

Arunabha Sengupta looks at the famous feuds across the history of cricket. In this episode he covers the sudden friction between Mohammad Azharuddin and Navjot Sidhu.

Sixty years after Lala Amarnath was infamously sent back from the Blighty , Navjot Singh Sidhu left the English tour in similarly sensational circumstances.

On the day of the third ODI in Old Trafford, Sidhu discovered that he would not be playing in embarrassing circumstances.

Neither Mohammad Azharuddin, the captain, nor Sandeep Patil, the manager, had informed him that he was not in the team. Yet, some of the members of the team had got to know about his omission from the team sheet pinned up in the dressing room.

As Azharuddin won the toss and signalled from the middle that India would bat, the Sikh opener started padding up. The rest of the team could not control the snickers, and some even let fly one or two Sardarji jokes. Sidhu, by then 33 and a veteran of 36 Tests, felt extremely insulted.

Even the efforts of the Board President Inderjit Singh Bindra could not persuade him to carry on with the tour. As he left, he made a dramatic declaration, “I promised my father that I would live my life with respect and dignity. As long as I stay on this tour I cannot do that.”

Sidhu was particularly incensed that Azharuddin himself joined the team in laughing at the sight of the unfortunate batsman in his pads. R. Mohan, the correspondent of The Hindu, remembers that Sidhu had told him, “The captain dropped me, then laughed, that f***er.”

While Sidhu was quite openly critical of Azharuddin’s attitude, the captain himself told the media, “the game is greater than the player and nobody should behave like schoolboys.”

Five months later, however, Sidhu was back in the team, playing against South Africa at Rajkot.

A decade and a half down the line, Jayawant Lele revealed in his autobiography, I Was There – Memoirs of a Cricket Administrator, that much of the misunderstanding between Azhar and Sidhu had been caused by the cultural and linguistic differences.

According to Lele, Mohinder Amarnath had been appointed to speak to Sidhu about the circumstances of his leaving the tour. When asked, Sidhu had alleged that the captain continuously abused him during the tour. On hearing the exact epithets used, Amarnath discovered to his amusement that commonplace Hyderabadi slangs, often used as terms of endearment, had been translated to their literal North Indian versions by the opening batsman. Hence, predominantly friendly address had been mistaken as foulmouthed abuse.