KOCHI: When Mohammed Azharuddeen and Sachin Baby were at the crease for Kerala against Mumbai at the Wankhede Stadium on Wednesday for their Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy match, social media was abuzz with amusing observations about how it felt like a throwback to the 90s with 'Sachin and Azhar' at the crease.
Azharuddeen's whirlwind 54-ball 137 which was the second-fastest hundred in the competition thrust him into national recognition overnight, even though he has been in the domestic circuit for the past four to five years.
And Azharuddeen's claim to fame is no longer thanks to sharing the name with former India captain Mohammed Azharuddin but for those who know the 26-year-old closely, the wicket-keeper batsman is a special talent who is finally getting the opportunities. Kerala head coach Tinu Yohannan knows all about being in the spotlight all of a sudden. He was the first cricketer from Kerala to play for India and he urges caution when it comes to putting too much pressure on Azharuddeen after one innings.
"We have told him to stay grounded and try to limit social media for some time. Finding yourself in the middle of so much hysteria can be unsettling and we don't want him to lose focus. What Azhar did on Wednesday was play a one of a kind innings and we can't expect him to keep playing like that every single game. There are a lot of senior players in the team to guide him and we want to be careful with him," said Yohannan.
While Yohannan doesn't want to put pressure on the wicket-keeper batsman, his eldest brother Kamaruddeen who was the one behind naming him Azharuddeen believes that this is just a start.
"So many people were telling us that he was playing some of the shots like Azhar and even playing some of them better. We always knew he had it in him. It was just a matter of getting the opportunity because it is the first time that he is getting the opportunity to open the innings. Earlier, he would be shuffled around in the batting order and he couldn't fully express himself. He looks settled now and is now playing with a lot of freedom," said Kamaruddeen.
In the first match against Puducherry, he had made thirty from eighteen balls and Azhar is looking like he is making the opportunities count.
"I wish our parents were still there to see this innings from Azhar. But they were always proud of him and we all believe that he can go onto achieve bigger things. I believe he has what it takes to play the IPL and he has the ambition and the hard-working mentality to achieve that dream," said Kamaruddeen.
Regardless of what he goes on an achieves from here, the unassuming Azharuddeen will go down in history as the first player to score a century for Kerala in T20 cricket.