Salim Durani’s association with Rajasthan cricket started in 1956 when the Maharana of Mewar and PM Rungta - the prime architects of cricket in the State - convinced him to shift base from Gujarat.
The flamboyant all-rounder, who breathed his last on Sunday morning at the age of 88, listened to them and featured in the Ranji Trophy for Rajasthan for 22 long years - from December 1956 to February 1978.
While he achieved incredible success during that period and guided the team to five Ranji Trophy finals, Durani developed a strong bond with the Rungta family. Every time he would travel to Jaipur, Durani would stay at Rungta’s residence and was also employed in the family business for a while.
“The Maharana of Udaipur and my father, PM Rungta, persuaded Salim bhai to play for Rajasthan and he happily agreed. He was employed in my company for quite some time. Over a while, my father (PM Rungta), Salim bhai, Vinoo Mankad, uncle Kishan Rungta, Raj Singh, Vijay Manjrekar had become very close friends,” says Kishore Rungta, a former president of the Rajasthan Cricket Association.
A veteran cricket administrator, Rungta was also the treasurer of the Board of Control for Cricket in India. As the news of Durani’s demise came in on Sunday early morning, it was an emotional roller-coaster for the entire Rungta family.
“Back in those days there was no money to put cricketers in fancy hotels. So, whenever the team would play in Rajasthan, Salim bhai and the other players would stay at our home and the bond grew stronger over the years. He lived absolutely like a king…” Rungta says.
As Durani became part of the family, Rungta also remembers several anecdotes that give a glimpse of how the cricketing legend was - on and off the field. “He was to play a Ranji Trophy match in Jaipur and back then, former cricketer GR Sunderam was our branch manager in Mumbai, so I told him to ensure that Salim boarded the flight to Jaipur on time. Mr Sunderam dropped him at the airport, but later we discovered that Salim bhai had reached Udaipur instead of Jaipur,” Rungta reminisces.
So, tempers flew when Durani finally reached Jaipur around midnight - barely a few hours before the game. “Initially, we were worried because we could not trace him. We knew that Salim bhai had boarded the flight for sure, but only late in the day did we figure out that he had reached Udaipur. So, finally, when he came back to Jaipur, we lost our cool and reprimanded him for being so irresponsible. And, to our surprise, he quietly went into his room and burnt his cricket apparel in frustration,” Rungta says.
However, after the Rungtas and other players learnt about it, the staff rushed to nearby tailor shops in the middle of the night to get new clothes for Durani. “Finally, just an hour before the match started at the Railway Cricket Ground in Jaipur, we got him new cricket clothes and Salim bhai took the field, donning new garments,” Rungta recollects.
Throughout their friendship that lasted over several decades, Rungta has also seen the emotional side of Durani, time and again. In the late 1960s, ahead of a Ranji Trophy final against Bombay at the Brabourne Stadium, the Rajasthan team was travelling by train from Jaipur, and Rungta suddenly saw Durani getting into an argument with a coolie.
“We had to change the train at Sawai Madhopur and like others, he had hired a coolie to get his luggage onto the train. Finally, when the Frontier Mail arrived at the station, we saw Salim bhai arguing with the coolie. He had given him a one rupee note, but the coolie wanted more. So, I stepped in and gave a 10 rupee note to the coolie,” Rungta says.
“The next station was an hour away and as the coolie was waiting near the gate, Salim bhai walked up to him with a smile and said, “You got Rs 10 because of me, so you must give me Rs 5 and keep the rest…” He was, obviously, joking. But that was Salim bhai,” Rungta reminisces.
Being a young cricket enthusiast then, Rungta remembers watching some of the domestic matches Durani featured in. “He was a king - both on and off the field. His contribution to Rajasthan cricket was immense. He won several matches single-handedly and it was a treat watching him bat,” he says. “He was a thorough gentleman, who loved his life and would crack jokes and keep everyone happy. The players respected him a lot…”
Former Rajasthan fast bowler Kailash Gattani, who played with Durani for a long time, learned the most important lesson from the latter.
“Play your natural game and don’t be afraid of anyone is what he would tell us,” Gattani says.
And, throughout his career, Durani had a similar approach - he would not spare the bowlers. “I cannot remember any left-arm spinner who got away bowling to him.He hit all of them all over the ground. Those who suffered were Norman Gifford, Paddy Shivalkar, Derek Underwood and Dilip Doshi and many more,” Gattani says.
During his days with the Rajasthan team, he had made several friends in the State and even after retirement, he would frequently travel down to Jaipur and watch Rajasthan’s Ranji Trophy fixtures. Even when the team won back-to-back Ranji Trophy titles in the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons, Durani visited the Sawai Mansingh Stadium to watch Rajasthan’s matches. He would quietly sit at one corner of the ground and watch the team play, and if he felt that something needed to be worked on, he made it a point to walk up to the players and advise them.
He was a regular visitor to Jaipur until five years ago. But the man, who once ruled Indian cricket, suffered in his final days.
In late 2020, after his niece Fauzia passed away, he shifted with his brother. But as his health condition worsened, Durani was confined to the bed and couldn’t walk without support. Even after retiring from all forms of cricket, Durani lived life king-sized.
“We organised an out-of-turn benefit match for Salim bhai in Sharjah and raised about $35,000. But when he landed in Mumbai, he did not have money to pay customs duties because he had spent the money. Whenever he would be in Jaipur or Mumbai to meet Raj Singh, we ensured that we put some money in his pocket silently. Salim bhai loved his cigarettes and there would be times when he would visit me in Jaipur and suddenly disappear one day,” Rungta reminisces.
“That was typical Salim bhai - and we all loved him for who and how he was…”
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