On 13 January 2021, an unheard-of wicket-keeper batsman from Kerala opened the batting and smashed a century in just 37 balls against the formidable Mumbai during the 2020-21 Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy.
When the dust settled on that knock, Kerala had comfortably mauled Mumbai's 196 and the T20 game was won with four overs to spare.
The shock news rang through the airwaves that evening. Both critics and scouts were taking note of the monumental 137* (54) - studded with 11-sixes and 9-fours.
Mohammed Azharuddeen had just announced his arrival.
As soon as he became the first batsman to score a century in a T20 match for Kerala and the second-fastest player to achieve this feat in the history of the tournament, the then 26-year-old was showered with praises.
More importantly, a course was set for the next step of his career- the Indian Premier League.
Bought by Royal Challengers Bangalore
for his base price of INR. 20 lakhs, Azharuddeen is set to share the dressing room with cricket's finest stars like Virat Kohli, AB de Villiers, Glenn Maxwell, and many more during the upcoming IPL 2021.
His is a story of perseverance and belief.
Named after the legendary Azharuddin
Born on 22 March 1994, Mohammed Azharuddeen was named after former India captain Mohammad Azharuddin.
Coming from a cricket-obsessed family, junior Azhar (as he is fondly called by his close ones) and his eight older brothers had the dream of playing the game professionally.
While his brothers could only reach the club level, Azharuddeen made his way to the state team.
Despite the tragic loss of his parents at a young age, he continued to thrive with the support of his brothers.
After impressive performances in the under-19 and under-23 categories, Azharuddeen broke into the domestic scene in 2015-16 while making his debut for Kerela during the Ranji Trophy, Vijay Hazare Trophy, and Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy that year.
Following his first appearance in the domestic circuit, the right-handed batsman has continued to show his potential.
In his 22 first-class appearances, Azharuddeen has scored 959 runs. He has also amassed a total of 585 runs in 30 List A games and 451 runs in 24 T20 matches.
Will IPL 2021 belong to Azhar?The year started with a bang for Azharuddeen as he scored a century from 37 balls, which culminated into an unbeaten 54-ball 137* innings.
With the help of nine fours and 11 sixes, he registered the third-highest score in Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy and joint-third fastest century by an Indian batsman.
His stellar knock ensured that Kerela beat Mumbai for the first time ever in any format.
In the process, he garnered appreciation from all quarters.
Although Kerela couldn't proceed to the knockout stage of the tournament, Azharuddeen's performance ensured that his name would be sought after in February's IPL auction.
And sure enough, he was acquired by RCB.
With S Bharat the only other Indian wicket-keeper in the squad, Azhar could well fancy his chances of featuring in the playing XI.
Last month, during a President's Cup match between his KCA Eagles and KCA Tuskers, he sent Sreenath K back to the pavilion with an extraordinary run-out, where he almost cartwheeled to grab the ball and hit the stumps.
Such is his keeping ability.
Also, his hard-hitting capabilities could well take the pressure off of the other RCB batting mainstays. Thus, Azhar is truly a promising player for RCB.
Having said that, form and consistency are the names of the game.
After his whirlwind 137*, Azhar has scored just two more fifties in nine-innings across all limited-overs formats. Both RCB and his rivals would have noted that.
Nonetheless, the raw talent is there for everyone to see.
The rise of Rishabh Pant and Ishan Kishan have shown that such players need to be backed. And if Azhar does receive the RCB support, India might just witness the steady rise of another great wicket-keeper batsman.