Ever since Navjot Singh Sidhu left the 1996 tour of England in a huff, the cricketing world has been searching for the real story behind his move. The basic assumption of it having something to do with his then captain, Mohammed Azharuddin was not off the mark, but the Indian cricket board did not reveal what exactly went wrong in England.
While Sidhu, now a popular television personality, continues to stay away from talking about it, J Y Lele, the then secretary of the BCCI reveals what transpired on that tour in his autobiography I Was There - Memoirs of a Cricket Administrator.
Lele writes that Sidhu simply refused to reveal details of the incident in a probe conducted by the BCCI when the team returned from England. "Each committee member tried his best to extract the reason. Sidhu was firm that it was his mistake to return in such a manner and he was prepared to face the consequences," writes Lele after describing how the first meeting of the disciplinary committee meeting in Mumbai failed to nail the problem.
Lele continues, "Manager Nagaraj, captain M Azharuddin, physio Ali Irani and some team members were also called, but all expressed ignorance about the reasons for Sidhu's strange behaviour. Finally, we thought of replacing a committee member with another former, but Punjabi-speaking player who could probably unearth the truth by getting friendly with him and by talking to him in his own language. Gavaskar paved the way for Mohinder Amarnath.
Sidhu was summoned again to the Taj Palace in New Delhi. We replayed tape-recorded depositions of players and officials, to convince him that nobody had anything against him. He stubbornly repeated his stand.
Mohinder apparently got upset. On seeing the deadlock, Raj Singh announced a short break and glanced at Mohinder. As planned, Mohinder got up, held Sidhu's hand and told him to accompany him for a stroll. But to everyone's surprise, when they returned after about 20 minutes, Mohinder was holding Sidhu's hand and laughing. Mohinder recommended to the committee that we forget about the incident. He declared that Sidhu was innocent and the other person involved too was equally innocent. Ultimately, the committee had no other recourse and decided to concur with Mohinder's stand. The inquiry was treated as closed. The Board concluded that there had been a misunderstanding and Sidhu could not be held guilty."
Sidhu and Azharuddin were unavailable for comment. A player who was on that tour said they were told by manager Nagaraj that there was some dispute between Sidhu and the captain. "We knew that even one word from us to the media would add to the controversy so we kept mum. In fact, we knew nothing more than what the manager told us," the player said.
Now, for the climax, over to Lele in his book: "After Sidhu left (the disciplinary meeting in Delhi), we asked Mohinder what had happened. He told us to keep the matter between the four of us, and not to disclose it even to Azhar but with the passage of many years, I find nothing wrong in revealing it. Mohinder, he (Sidhu) revealed the real reason.
He said that everything was okay in the beginning, but after a few days, for reasons best known to him, Azhar started abusing him repeatedly. Every day, when they met, he used to say 'Good morning', okay, but this was invariably followed by filthy words. At the hotel, at the nets, while passing on instructions, even while chatting with him, Azhar used to address him with a prefix!
Sidhu said he was terribly upset and decided that it was not tolerable! He had not come on the tour to listen to abuses from the skipper. He was upset, so he decided to leave the team quietly. Mohinder was stunned! But as he knew Azhar closely, he was not ready to believe him. He insisted that Sidhu tell him the words used by Azhar. Ultimately, Sidhu came out with the words: "M** k* ******* "
"After a pause, Mohinder burst into laughter as Sidhu watched him nervously. Finally, Mohinder told him, "Dear Sherry, okay, this is an abuse in North India. But believe me, this is a very common naughty address to a dear one in Hyderabadi, often used by even ladies over there! It means 'mother's dear child!' (I too remembered having heard these words from a selector when I visited his place in Hyderabad). While calling you with that prefix, Azhar was not showing slightest disrespect to you, leave aside any offence!"
* I was there --Memoirs of a Cricket Administrator by J Y Lele is published by The Marine Sports.