Salim Durani, one of Indian cricket's early stars, passes away at 88
Born in Kabul in Afghanistan in 1934, the flamboyant all-rounder played 29 Tests for India in a career spanning from 1960 to 1973.
Former India all-rounder Salim Durani has died at the age of 88. Durani, who was living in Jamnagar, Gujarat, had undergone a proximal femoral nail surgery after he broke his thigh bone in a fall in January this year.
A flamboyant all-rounder in the 1960s and 70s, Durani played 29 Tests for India from 1960 to 1973, scoring 1,202 runs at an average of 25.04, with one century (104 against West Indies in 1962) and seven fifties. As a left-arm spinner, he claimed 75 wickets at 35.42 apiece.
In first-class cricket, playing for Saurashtra, Gujarat and Rajasthan, his numbers (8,545 runs at 33, 484 wickets at 26 in a span of 23 years from 1953-54 to 1977-78) were reasonably better. He was a mainstay for Rajasthan in the 1960s, a decade when they were the perennial bridesmaids to Bombay in Ranji Trophy. With Durani, it was much more than just about numbers though.
Looking back at his career, Durani had said in a chat with HT in 2021: “I was a bowler mainly. I also used to bat well. You could call me a bowling all-rounder."
He had picked his match-turning spell against West Indies at Port of Spain in 1971 as his finest moment. In the space of a few balls in the fourth innings, Durani dismissed Clive Lloyd and Garry Sobers for India’s first Test victory in the Caribbean. “From a bowling point of view, the Test series we won in 1971, I bowled very well. I got Sobers and Lloyd out, I should have got more wickets. That was my most memorable day on the ground.
“In Duleep Trophy and Ranji Trophy, I won matches on account of my bowling efforts,” he had said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi condoled Durani’s demise on Sunday. “Salim Durani Ji was a cricketing legend, an institution in himself. He made a key contribution to India’s rise in the world of cricket. On and off the field, he was known for his style. Pained by his demise. Condolences to his family and friends. May his soul rest in peace,” Modi tweeted.
Born in Kabul, Afghanistan, in 1934, he was raised in Jamnagar and learnt his cricket there. But he was at home in any city in India. Such was his charisma and friendly nature that he was never short of well-wishers wherever he went.
“Basically, everyone was in cricket, it was a family game, my father was a cricketer, my cousin brothers were all cricketers, we were connected with cricket right from the birth,” he said.
His only Test century also came against West Indies at Port of Spain. Having batted at No 9 in India's first innings of the fourth Test in Trinidad in 1962, he was promoted to No 3 for their second innings and scored 104. He also took all three West Indies wickets in the fourth innings even as the home team won by seven wickets.
“That was a very fine innings. In one of the parties after that, Sir Frank Worrell said: ‘If you give me a choice to choose my team, I will have Durani at No 3 in my batting order.’ He was such a great player. That was a great compliment in my life, I never got a better compliment in my life,” Durani had recalled.
Durani was a crowd favourite because of his stylish stroke-play and ability to hit sixes on demand.
“I always liked to hit the ball, never believed in playing tuk-tuk. I enjoyed hitting sixes and would look to do so when the crowd used to demand. They used to say, ‘yeh demand pe six marta hai’. I was very popular with the crowds.”
Alongside two other charismatic India cricketers of that era, ML Jaisimha and MAK Pataudi, the dashing Durani was among the most popular cricketers of his generation. He was handsome enough to play the hero in a Bollywood movie, pairing with Parveen Babi in BR Ishara’s Charitra.
“All of us were stylish... Pataudi had his own style, Jaisimha had his own personality, mine was different. We were very natural, we used to dress up well, (but) we never tried to impress people, we were naturally good-looking people and graceful.”
As a cricketer, Durani didn’t realise his immense potential. Yet, in terms of name and fame, he was arguably second to none. A large-hearted, soft-spoken man, he remained a popular figure all across India with a vast circle of friends in all cities. He had said that Mumbai was his lucky place. “Mumbai was my favourite place… there is the song, ‘bam bam Bambai, Bambai hum ko jham gayi’. From a cricketing point of view, Mumbai became very lucky for me. I played a lot of cricket in Hyderabad also.
“Whichever city I went to, I would become popular. We used to mix with people and try to cope with the city’s basic culture when there, and that is why people liked us.”
After finishing his cricketing career, he spent most of his time in Mumbai, a majority of his evenings spent at the bars of the most fashionable clubs and gymkhanas. Only when his health started failing did he really settle down in Jamnagar where his extended family took care of him.
In the early 1960s, Durani became the first cricketer to win the Arjuna Award, then the highest sporting honour of the country. He was also honoured by the Indian cricket board with the CK Nayudu Lifetime Achievement Award at a BCCI award function in Mumbai in May 2011.
Not getting to tour and play in England was his only regret. “I went to West Indies twice with the Indian team, I wish I was taken to England (also). I would have given much better performances on English pitches, which suited my batting and bowling. Anyway, there are no regrets. Naturally, I tried to give my best for the country.”
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