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A fling with flamboyance

In recognising Salim Durrani for the CK Nayudu Lifetime Achievement Award today, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) is taking the ‘better late than never’ route. KK Paul writes.

india Updated: May 30, 2011 23:28 IST
KK Paul

In recognising Salim Durrani for the CK Nayudu Lifetime Achievement Award today, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) is taking the ‘better late than never’ route. Seen as the architect of India’s first Test victory over England in 1961-62, the 76-year-old former all-rounder’s contribution to Indian cricket is immeasurable.

The irony of him receiving the BCCI award, however, is keen, considering that Durrani never had smooth relations with the Indian cricketing body during his playing career.

Eyebrows were raised even when the first Arjuna Awards were announced on Republic Day 1962, when, along with the likes of tennis player Ramanathan Krishnan, footballer PK Banerjee, shooter Karni Singh and badminton player Nandu Natekar, the handsome and a flamboyant young cricketer Salim Durrani was nominated for the award.

He had then made a debut only two seasons ago with seven Test caps and without a tour abroad. But as events would play out, the selectors had spotted the right talent.

For some, Durrani was an arrogant figure. Despite no television in those days, it was surprising indeed for him to have such a countrywide fan-following in such a short time, especially among women. A flashing left-hander, Durrani had developed a style of his own. He was known to have obliged the crowds each time they wanted a six.

Aptly, he wrote a book after his retirement titled Asking For A Six.

After he left the field of cricket, Durrani also dabbled in films (some maintaining that the latter may have hastened his retirement). Parveen Babi made her debut in the film Charitra with Durrani in the lead role.

Durrani played only 29 Test matches in a career spanning 15 years from 1959 to 1974, as he was regularly in and out of the team for reasons other than cricket. Some of India’s most memorable Test victories, rare in those days, have his name etched on them.

After encountering a 0-5 whitewash in England in 1959, India were hosting Ted Dexter’s team in 1961-62.

The rock-like defence of Ken Barrington had become impregnable for Indian bowlers. Ultimately, Durrani’s slow left-arm turners paved the way for two historic wins at Eden Gardens, Calcutta, and at the then Corporation Stadium in Madras.

Durrani’s figures of 8 for 113 at Calcutta and 10 for 177 at Madras, along with useful contributions from Chandu Borde led to the series win.

When the Indian team visited the West Indies under Nari Contractor in early 1962, although India lost the Test, Durrani scored a century off the great pacemen Wes Hall and Charlie Griffith. With a tally of 18 wickets in the series, his was a fine all-round performance.

Ten years later, he was again picked up for the West Indies tour under the captaincy of Ajit Wadekar in 1971. India smelt victory in the second Test at Port of Spain where Sunil Gavaskar made his debut.

It was at the team meeting on the night of the fourth day that Durrani chipped in with the claim that Gary Sobers and Clive Lloyd, who were going great guns, “should be left to him”. Durrani went on to create history with two inspired deliveries, scalping both Sobers and Lloyd within a span of ten overs.

India went on to win their first series in West Indies.

After retirement, Durrani remained associated with CHAMPS (Caring, Healing, Assisting, Motivating and Promoting Sportspersons), a foundation established by Gavaskar. Such was the charisma of Durrani that in 1971, when Gavaskar and he were travelling by train, members of the railway staff went out of their way to provide him with an extra blanket.

Durrani quickly passed it on to the young Gavaskar who was shivering in the north Indian winter.

(KK Paul is a former police commissioner of Delhi. The views expressed by the author are personal)