Me and my brother Rajan (extreme left) at home with Salim Durrani in 1970
Me and Salim Bhai at Singapore in 1996.
A tribute to the handsome and graceful all-rounder on his 87th birthday today
Blessed with languid grace, earthy wit and handsome physique, few could match Salim Durrani’s cricketing genius when he was in the mood. So weighty was his talent that the man could make the willow and the ball talk as per his dictate. He was undoubtedly the Prince Charming of Indian cricket but had he been born in this era; he’d have become the King of ODIs and T-20s especially since he could hit sixes at will and also make girls swoon with his smile!
Statistics do no justice to his mercurial ability but connoisseurs know that greater the challenge, the more tumultuous and fiercer was his response. His breezy century in West Indies in 1962 against the dreaded pace of Wesley Hall and Charlie Griffith is still talked about with awe, while his demolishing of Garfield Sobers and Clive Lloyd in 1971 is a story of daredevilry since he took the ball himself from his unwilling captain Ajit Wadekar. Never before and never thereafter has a cricketer aroused mass hysteria like Salim Durrani did in his heyday and it is a pity that selectors did not do justice to his volcanic talent.
Though I had seen many of Salim Bhai’s exploits, I came in contact with him only in February 1970. An avid cricket aficionado, Mr. J. C. Sharma, invited him to play for Bright Star Cricket Club (BSCC) in Jaipur in a tournament organised by North-Western Railway. Run with clock-work efficiency by Mr. Sharma (fondly called “JC” by cricketing fraternity), BSCC was the inter-district champion in Rajasthan for several years. Many noteworthy players like Suryaveer Singh, Laxman Singh, Tilak Raj and Vijay Mehra played for BSCC only because “JC” was dedicated to cricket. Since I happened to be Mr. Sharma’s fondest next-door neighbour (he later became my uncle-in-law), he included me in his club’s elite 14 from the age of ten when I started representing Saint Xavier’s A team, giving me a chance to rub shoulders with eminent cricketers!
Apart from winning the trophy, Durrani also won our hearts. I remember I had to perform in my class drama in the evening of the concluding day of the title clash and was worried as to how I’d reach the theatre in time as it was too far away from the Railway Stadium. But hearing my dilemma, Durrani not just bowled out the opponents in double-quick time but also hit a brisk 42 with 6 sixes to finish the match around 2pm! A few days later, he came over for dinner on the eve of Holi festival and played tennis ball cricket with all youngsters with gay abandon. So friendly was his disposition that he gleefully joined everyone in the colony’s Holika Dahan ceremony (Sacred Fire).
That week of cricket and the visit created a bond between us. Though our interactions were spread over years, each occasion would lead to a lot of merriment. Two happenings would suffice to illustrate Durrani’s humility and greatness as a gentleman. In a Ranji Trophy match at Chaugan Stadium in Jaipur, Durrani got out for a naught and came back livid in anger. To sooth the sulking cricketer, Chauth Mal, the baggage man, went up to offer some lip sympathy but in a fit of rage, Durrani slapped the man and went to sleep. An hour later, Durrani called for Chauth Mal and not just apologised to him in front of the entire team but also hugged him in a tight embrace. And despite his meagre financial resources, he also gave a hundred rupee note to make Chauth Mal a lifelong fan!
The other incident happened in 1996 when me and Salim Bhai were doing a commentary stint at ESPN’s Asian headquarters in Singapore. Though I was always put up in a penthouse in a beach hotel, I opted to move to Albert Court… the boutique hotel where Salim Bhai was staying as this enabled us to go for long walks around the city as well as spend time together. One evening over dinner, I complimented Salim Bhai for his wonderful leather slippers and sought the address of the shop from where he had purchased the said merchandise. In between gulps of food, he promised to take me to the concerned mall the next day. However, when my doorbell rang early next morning, I was surprised to see him standing outside with a small packet. Barging in, he asked me to try the slippers that he had brought for me of the same brand and colour. The affectionate gesture overwhelmed me and the gift fitted me perfectly!
Every meeting thereafter was a boon as well as a reminder of our life’s chariot hurrying towards its zenith. Each time, I saw his body had shrunk in size but his spirits remained cheerfully bright though immensely saintlier than before. But what always struck me was his overriding concern for me, my family as he would invariably enquire about everyone’s welfare especially “JC”. Our last meeting was a few years ago when we were taking our respective flights from Chennai airport. He had been awarded a large cheque by the BCCI the previous night but looking into his eyes, I perceived he was amused by the doings of the administrators!
Having learnt my cricket literally at his feet, I can say Durrani’s carefree, dare-devil attitude rubbed on me too and though I have respected my seniors in every sphere, I have never been too overawed by anyone’s stature so as to cripple my individuality. If someone, somewhere would remember me with as much affection as I remember the great Prince Charming of Indian Cricket, my life would have been well lived!