Cricket: Azharuddin calms Sidhu storm

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For once, the captain under fire going into a Test series does not wear an England sweater. While Michael Atherton basks in the glow of success after the Texaco Trophy Series, word has reached Mohammad Azharuddin's ears that his popularity at home in the wake of the Navjot Sidhu affair is not exactly soaring. In Amritsar, effigies of the Indian leader have been burned in the streets. Even Atherton has yet to be treated to that one.

As India's preparation for Edgbaston ended in a watery abandonment at Leicester yesterday, Azharuddin chose the moment to state his position in the wake of the "unnecessary controversy" caused by Sidhu's decision to return home after being dropped from the third Texaco game. He denied a story in circulation that he had laughed at the 33-year-old opener, a veteran of 36 Tests, causing him to be humiliated in front of his team- mates. In turn, he criticised Sidhu for announcing his retirement in bad grace.

He said his decision to drop Sidhu had been taken "on cricketing grounds by all four members of the selection committee".

"Sidhu was informed prior to the game that he was being dropped," he added. This was in response to a suggestion that Sidhu was unaware of his omission until he was padding up in the Old Trafford dressing room.

Azharuddin said he regretted that so many recent retirements, not only among Indian players, had been made in sad circumstances. He mentioned Ian Bo- tham and Desmond Haynes as well as Manoj Prabhakar, whose story is not unlike Sidhu's in that his retirement followed his fall from grace in the World Cup.

Azharuddin dismissed the reaction at home as scarcely more of a hindrance than the mild attack of tennis elbow that persua- ded him to leave the field after an 82-ball 72 at Leicester yesterday, when rain reduced the last day to one session.

Yorkshire collapse, Scoreboard, page 23