There was magic in every movement. The feet moved as if resting on a coil of spring. The bat flashed in arc and cadence that stretched grammar of batsmanship into realms of poetry. Then there were those wrists which came into play at the last moment, sending the ball streaking to unexpected corners across the green. The flick through midwicket could be played from way outside the off stump, and when the mood and field demanded it, the same ball could be carted through the covers with an equivalent brand of panache. The body flowed into the stroke in a burst of energy that throbbed with the joyous mix of sport and melody.
And when the bat was left behind, the pads taken off and the man strode into the field in just his flannels, the delight continued unabated. Loose limbed and light footed, he covered the ground with quickness that was as ethereal as effective. He picked up and threw without a break in the full tilt of motion. If just beyond his reach he flung himself, stopping and throwing while prone on the ground. The return whipped with a flick of the wrist, often over his own back to prevent the extra seconds of turning his torso, brought thunderous applause even when the cricket was at its drabbest with the opposition piling on runs on those 1980s pitches. Close to the wicket he moved with electric anticipation and held on to travelling balls beyond mortal reach with an ease that was esoteric. And all through, while scripting the deeds of the greatest all-round fielder ever produced by the country, the actions spoke less of athleticism and more about artistry.
Mohammad Azharuddin was magical. Be it batting or fielding, his willow was a wand, his strokes cast a spell and his motion in the field was hypnotic.
Was there some black magic as well? That changed results of matches, transforming cash deposits in clandestine hotel lockers and ritzy Armani suits into victories and defeats? Perhaps ...
Certainly there have been better batsmen to have played the game. Perhaps better fielders. But none of them was Mohammed Azharuddin.
He was born on this day, Feruary 8, 1963.