Salim Durani on his 86th birthday: I would have been successful in ODIs, T20s

On being asked about his 25 years of first-class cricket, the great all-rounder says, “I am happy that I played this long. I could have played a lot more for India.”

"I see cricket matches and these days IPL (Indian Premier League). This bimari (Covid-19) jo chal rahi hai (that is going around) is most dangerous. No way can I stir out. My advice to young cricketers is: Mehnet karo aur dil laghake khelo (Work hard and play with heart),” says Salim Durani.   -  Special Arrangement

Salim Aziz Durani was a remarkable cricketer whose career spanned two-and-a-half decades. His achievements, though, with the bat and ball in international cricket did not quite measure up to the immense talent he possessed. He was a big hit with the fans. The old-timers say that had he been more focused, he could have easily been India’s second greatest all-rounder after the versatile and intelligent Vinoo Mankad.

The son of Afghan parents with a Pathani lineage, Durani entertained the fans right from his first Ranji Trophy match against Gujarat and bowled with a lot of cunning.

Dropped for four seasons from 1967 to 1970, Durani was recalled to the Indian team for the 1971 tour of the West Indies, where he was chiefly instrumental in India’s historic first series win there. He did not disappoint when skipper Ajit Wadekar tossed the ball to him; he dismissed left-handers Garry Sobers and Clive Lloyd, and India notched up a win in the Port of Spain Test and the series itself.

Durani took big decisions in his nascent career. He moved to Gujarat after playing just one Ranji Trophy match for Saurashtra, then moved to Rajasthan after playing two seasons and three matches for Gujarat.

Durani's rise from a commonplace cricketer to a big draw in Indian cricket is a fascinating tale. He was born in an undivided India and relocated to the princely state of Jamnagar.

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“Cricket was played and promoted by the royalty. The Maharaja of Nawanagar invited my grandfather (Aziz Durani) to Jamnagar in the late 1930s. Salim mama stays with us now in Jamnagar. He is not dependent on us; we look after him. The vertebrae gap is troubling him. The aftereffects of bending and other cricket-related activities are catching up with him with age,” said Fawzia Lala, a retired schoolteacher and Durani’s niece.

Durani turns 86 on December 11. “I have given up smoking. I see cricket matches and these days IPL (Indian Premier League). This bimari (Covid-19) jo chal rahi hai (that is going around) is most dangerous. No way can I stir out. My advice to young cricketers is: Mehnet karo aur dil lagake khelo (Work hard and play with heart).”

Edited excerpts from an interview conducted over the phone.

The Kabul connection! Karachi and Jamnagar.

I was not born in Kabul. In fact, I have never visited Kabul. My parents and bade abba (grandfather) belonged to Kabul. My bade abba was an automobile engineer. My grandfather played football in Kabul. The entire Durani family moved to Karachi in the second half of the 1930s. My father (Abdul Aziz) joined the police department there. He picked up cricket there and was a wicketkeeper-batsman.

I don’t remember much about Karachi. I was born in 1934 and must have come to Jamnagar much before the partition of undivided India. My father, mother and all other family members moved to Jamnagar. My elder sister’s husband was from Bangladesh and hence she went there.

Cricket in Jamnagar in the 1940s.

Initially, I played cricket with tennis balls with my friends. The matches were played, you can say, on concrete surfaces and on matting.

I also played in the inter-school Hill Shield tournament. I used to bowl and bat, and hence was an all-rounder. The inter-school (tournament) was played with proper cricket balls. My father was my first coach. Mere pithaji hamko baitha dete the...kya karna hai aur kaise khelna hai (My father used to sit me down...what to do and how to play).

Ambidextrous bowler to left-hand variety!

People may be surprised to know that I used to bowl off both hands. Vinoo Mankad, who used to play in Jamnagar those dayssaw me bowl and suggested to my parents that I become a left-hand bowler. He used to play with my father and was a regular visitor to my house. He used to call my mother “Khakhima.”

Vinoo bhai used to tie my right hand around my back so that I bowled with my left hand. Mere haath ko peeche bandh diya unhone (He tied my hands behind my back). This happened at the police lines ground, which only had a concrete-like surface.

Hum log zameen pe bowling karthe the (We used to bowl on dirt grounds). But most of the matches in Jamnagar were played on matting. The ball used to bounce suddenly and turn square on matting. But I was always a left-hand batsman.

I also played in the all-Saurashtra inter-school tournament. I excelled in it and was picked in the state schools team for the all-India inter-school tournament in Calcutta. That’s the first time, maybe in 1949, I played at Eden Gardens. In one match I took six wickets in each innings.

I never went to college, but played for Anjuman Islam in Bombay’s Harris Shield. I lived in a hostel and that was the first time I played the game on turf wickets.

Did he like to hit sixes? "Wo tho shayad ittefaq tha (That was probably a coincidence). Log chillate the (People would shout) and demanded sixes from me. Luckily, gend bhi aise hi aate the (the ball would also come in that way) and I would dispatch the ball into the stands," says Salim Durani.   -  The Hindu Photo Library

 

Ranji Trophy debut for Saurashtra.

A few years after school cricket, I played Ranji Trophy for Saurashtra in December 1953. And I scored a century (108 in 150 minutes with 17 fours) in the first match against Gujarat at the Commerce College ground, Ahmedabad. There was a good crowd. Kaafi achhi thi (It was pretty good) and I think I entertained them.

Quick move to Gujarat.

(India bowler) Jasu bhai Patel was the captain of the Gujarat side. He was impressed with my century and invited me to play for Gujarat. I played for Suman Munsha’s team in the local tournaments in Ahmedabad. I played for Gujarat in 1954 and 1956, but moved to Rajasthan for the 1956-57 season.

Why Rajasthan?

Gujarat persuaded me not to go to Rajasthan. Jasu bhai had helped me a lot. But the Maharana of Udaipur, Bhagwat Singh, spoke to B. B. Nimbalkar and got me to play for Rajasthan. Most of the matches there were played on jute matting.

Memories of Ranji Trophy for Saurashtra, Gujarat and Rajasthan.

I remember a few performances against Bombay, but actually I also remember the coach named Mr Yusuf Farid. He was in Bombay and he used to coach the Anjuman Islam High School team. I played in the Harris Shield for two years. Mr Farid had brought a team to Rajkot and I performed well in a match. After the match, he offered all facilities for me to play for Anjuman.

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Breakthrough match and Duleep Trophy.

It has to be the debut century against Gujarat. The Duleep Trophy was an important tournament then...a big tournament.

Playing for Rajasthan against Bombay.

It used to be a real tussle. While Central Zone won the Duleep Trophy, Rajasthan could never put it across Bombay in the Ranji Trophy. I have scored two centuries against Bombay.

The matches you remember as a bowler.

Of course, the six wickets in each innings for Saurashtra schools in the in the all-India schools tournament, but I also took eight wickets (5/47 and 3/66) in the Calcutta Test against Ted Dexter’s England in the 1961-62 series.

Mentoring by Vinoo Mankad.

Vinoo bhai used to play for Rajasthan and so I have played a lot with him. He was our captain. We used to observe him and lap up lessons. He also guided me. Vinoo bhai also advised us thus: “Batsman ka weakness ko pakad lena and aur bowling karo (Catch the batsman’s weakness and bowl accordingly). And also set the field accordingly.

Salim Durani celebrated his 86th birthday on Friday.   -  SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

 

Were you very conscious of your talent?

I was. Also that if I worked hard, I would receive recognition and meet with success. And that my ambition will be fulfilled.

The 1971 series in the West Indies, the historic win with you dismissing Clive Lloyd and Garry Sobers, would that be the top of the heap of your performances list?

It’s a fact that the dismissals of Lloyd and Sobers largely contributed to India’s win in the Port of Spain Test of 1971. Ye tho zindagi bhar yaad ho sakthi hai (It’s a memory for a lifetime).

The skipper, Ajit Wadekar, had the confidence in me and he gave me the ball. He just said: “Come on and bowl.”

There was a rough outside the off-stump and I exploited that patch while bowling to Sobers. One ball turned sharply and he was clean-bowled; he could not do anything.

Lloyd was taken by Wadekar at short midwicket. That was a brilliant catch. Lloyd attempted a drive through mid-off, but the ball turned and came into him and he was beaten.

You did not play for four years for India from January 1967 to January 1971, and India played 36 Tests during that period. Even in 1971, you went to the West Indies but not to England.

I was not selected and so I did not play: as simple as that. And how could I question the selectors? Chandra (B. S. Chandrasekhar) went to England and he bowled brilliantly and proved to be a matchwinner. Dukh hua ki char season nahi khele. Lekhin kya kar saktha hai? (It hurt that I didn’t play for four seasons. But what can one do?)

You played 29 Test matches, took 75 Test wickets and scored 1,202 runs.

I was a very good bowler and an attacking bowler. But I think I was mainly a batsman. I think I should have done a lot more. Unfortunately, the circumstances did not favour me.

You responded promptly to “We want sixer” calls from the crowd. Did you like to hit sixes?

Wo tho shayad ittefaq tha (That was probably a coincidence). Log chillate the (People would shout) and demanded sixes from me. Luckily, gend bhi aise hi aate the (the ball would also come in that way) and I would dispatch the ball into the stands.

On Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi and Ajit Wadekar.

Pataudi was a very nice person. It was just like this... He was the captain and I was a player. I think he had the confidence in me. Pataudi was samajdhar (knowledgable). And Ajit was also a very nice person and captain. He listened to me and encouraged me.

India captain Bishen Singh Bedi (right) with Abdul Aziz, Salim Durani's father, during a three-day match between Indians and Pakistan Banks XI in Karachi on September 27, 1978. "My father was my first coach. Mere pithaji hamko baitha dete the...kya karna hai aur kaise khelna hai (My father used to sit me down to teach me what to do and how to play)," says Durani.   -  The Hindu Photo Library

 

Your third first-class match was against New Zealand (December 1955). A warmup game. You were dismissed for zero in both innings.

I was very disappointed. The match was played on coir matting in Ahmedabad. And Henry Cave was moving the ball out. He was very tall. I could not cope with the two deliveries.

You did well against England, took 35 wickets and scored 672 runs.

It is a fact that I bowled well to the England batsmen. I thought they were not very comfortable against the balls that used to leave them. Toh uska main ne advantage liya (So, I took advantage of it).

I did very well against Ted Dexter’s team in the 1961-62 series. I took eight (wickets) in Calcutta and 10 at the Corporation Stadium in Madras. They were not bad pitches at all. They were hard and enabled me to turn (the ball).

The tours to the West Indies in 1962 and 1971.

The West Indies team of 1962 was the best in the world. We were a very young team. We had beaten England in the home series and soon went to the West Indies. I scored 104 at Port of Spain (second innings of the fourth Test) and against Wesley Hall, Charlie Stayers, Lance Gibbs and Garry Sobers.

I would say that Hall was the fastest I have faced in my career. He had a long run-up and was very stylish. He was really quick beyond anybody’s imagination. The 1971 series is all history now. India won and I played a small part in it.

You were not picked for any other tour other than to the West Indies. You must have been disappointed.

Bilkul. Jab nahi lete toh kya kar sakta tha? Jabardasti toh nahi kar sakte the. (Of course! What could I do when I wasn’t being picked? I couldn’t force myself in.) I could have been picked for most tours.

What went wrong from 1967 to ’70.

I cannot pinpoint a reason for not being considered from 1967 to ’70. Samaj main nahi aa raha hai (I don’t understand it). I did not talk to anyone. The teams were selected and they left.

Who was your favourite cricketer?

Sir Frank Worrell. Everything he did was graceful. Unko dekhne main majaa aathi thi (I was fun watching him). I interacted with him a lot in 1962. But I had seen him before in Rajkot. Lekin milne ke liye mauka nahi mila (But I didn’t get a chance to meet him).

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The Brabourne Stadium was your favourite ground.

I played a lot of matches at the Brabourne. I loved to play there. The pitch was good for batting and bowling.

Twenty-five years of first-class cricket.

I am happy that I played this long. I could have played a lot more for India. Centuries against Bombay yaad aata hai (I remember). Also, the wickets of Lloyd and Sobers at Port of Spain ’71 and also the Eden Gardens performances. I was a very confident cricketer.

On ODI and Twenty20 cricket.

I would have been successful in these two formats. I see and enjoy IPL. Virat Kohli as a batsman is top class. He is very good across all formats.

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