Wards bid adieu to inspirational coach Azad

Desh Prem Azad, who was cremated in Chandigarh on Saturday in the presence of a large number of sportspersons, administrators and family members, is best known for producing quality fast bowlers like Kapil Dev, Chetan Sharma and Yograj Singh at a time when spinners ruled the roost in the country.

But one cannot ignore his contribution in producing batsmen as well. After all, one of India’s prolific run-scorer in the domestic circuit — Ashok Malhotra was his student.

While Malhotra couldn’t do justice to his talent at the international level, playing just seven Tests, he held the record for most runs in the Ranji Trophy for a long time.

Malhotra spoke to Mail Today about the man who lived cricket. Currently the coach of the Bengal side, he reminisced about how he would often joke with Azad, a Dronacharya awardee, about being the odd man out among his wards. “Azad sir would often talk about producing quality fast bowlers for the country. He had immense faith in his wards".

But I would often say that he never spoke about producing a top-class batsman.

“While Kapil, Yograj and Chetan were all fast bowlers, I was the only batsman who trained under him and then went on to represent the country,” Malhotra said.

At a time when West Zone dominated Indian cricket, not many thought that youngsters from Chandigarh could go on and represent the country. And Malhotra feels that the belief was instilled by none other than Azad.

“I was just 13 or 14 when I went to train under him. Trust me, at that time, not many people would have expected cricketers from Chandigarh to go on and play for the country. But he had immense faith in us and made us believe in our abilities. He gave us confidence that we were not inferior to anybody,” Malhotra revealed.

It is often said that a friend in need is a friend indeed and that is what Chetan Sharma learnt after being hit by Javed Miandad for a six off the last ball in the Australasia Cup final in Sharjah in 1986. “ Azad sir showed us that he wasn’t someone who would stand by us only during our success. When the going was really tough for me after being hit for a six by Miandad, he gave me support. He didn’t let me interact with anyone. He was more interested in preparing me for the upcoming England tour and after the low of being hit for the six came the high of picking five wickets in England,” Chetan told Mail Today.

No wonder that Kapil Dev said: “I have lost my guru. More than that, he was also a great friend of mine. I owe him a lot for whatever I have achieved in my life as a cricketer. I can't explain in words, it is very difficult. He made a great contribution to the sport.”

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