Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91
Vol. XXXIII No. 2, May 1-15, 2023
He was the entertainer supreme. Tall and handsome he played to the gallery time and again hitting sixes whenever the spectators goaded him on. Dashing and debonair he walked to the crease elegantly and soon the elegance was seen in his swashbuckling left handed batsmanship. As if this was not enough his left arm spinners repeatedly befuddled the best of batsmen with the biting turn and alluring flight. At his peak in the 60s he was India’s foremost all-rounder and his death last month at the age of 88 drew tributes from the cricketing world that were sincere and spontaneous.
Salim Aziz Durani was the ultimate crowd puller wherever he played from Bombay to Bridgetown. It is a pity that he played only in India and the West Indies. Spectators in Australia, England and New Zealand were denied the opportunity to be entertained by a cricketer who was a true genius in his ability to turn a match on its head either with a quickfire half century or a couple of quick wickets. The cricketing public of Madras was more fortunate for they saw the charismatic cricketer during his heyday starring with bat and ball and shaping two significant triumphs.
When he played his first Test at Madras at the old Nehru stadium in January 1962 Durani had already built a reputation. In the four matches of the series he had cracked a buccaneering 71 at Bombay and had taken eight wickets to shape an Indian victory at Calcutta. Straight to Madras for the final Test and Durani was in his elements. A breezy 21 was the prelude to his finest bowling feat. With figures of six for 105 and four for 72 he was the star of India’s historic victory which saw them win a Test series against England for the first time. The England batsmen among them Ted Dexter, Ken Barrington, Peter Richardson and Mike Smith had no clue to his bowling skills as Durani wove patterns around them. It remained his only ten-wicket haul of his 29 Test career.
Two years later when England again paid a visit Durani was acknowledged as the country’s leading all-rounder. The first Test was played at the Nehru stadium in January and while he failed with the bat he took three wickets for 97 to help India gain a first innings lead of 140 runs in a drawn game In October the same year Durani was back at the same venue this time against Australia. And while he again failed to come off with the bat he did have three wickets for the match, his victims being the visitors’ leading batsmen, Bill Lawry, Norman O’Neill and Brian Booth.
In February Durani was again at the Nehru stadium for the first Test against New Zealand, incidentally the last such match to be played at this venue. Initially he performed a bit of a rescue act. India had lost five wickets for 114 but Durani and Borde added 88 runs for the sixth wicket before the former was out for 34. The partnership however helped shift the momentum to India for they finally posted a total of 397. With the ball Durani was at his parsimonious best sending down 45 overs and taking three for 53 in the first innings emerging as the most successful bowler.
It was eight years later that Durani played his fifth and last Test at Madras in January 1973 and by this time the action had shifted to the city’s traditional venue Chepauk. It was the third Test of the series against England and the teams were 1-1. India won by four wickets to go one up a lead they maintained to take the series. Durani who received a grand ovation when he came out to bat in both innings played a stellar role in the victory with two vital knocks of 38 in each innings. Considering the fact that it was a low scoring game and India won by not too convincing a margin these contributions were priceless. But what really struck a rapport with the Chepauk crowd was his ability to pull off sixes on demand. Fifty years ago hitting sixes was not as common as it is now and crowds relished the rare sight of the ball soaring into the stratosphere and landing in the stands. Durani was the one cricketer who could do it repeatedly and he hit two sixes in each of the innings much to the joy of the crowd.
In addition to the five Tests he played Durani figured in two other first class matches in Madras. In February 1961 he played a leading role in Rajasthan turning the tables on Madras in the Ranji Trophy semifinal at the Nehru stadium after they had conceded the first innings lead. Bowling in tandem with two greats Vinoo Mankad and Subash Gupte, Durani at the time slowly building a reputation for himself took three wickets in each innings as Rajasthan won by 67 runs. In December 1965 he maintained his reputation as the country’s leading all-rounder but Central Zone lost to South Zone by an innings and 30 runs in the Duleep Trophy final at Chepauk. He top scored in both innings with 36 and 40 and took five wickets for 102 runs but with the batting failing in both innings Durani had the mortification of seeing his side go down in two days despite his splendid all-round performance.
In November 1973 Durani approaching his 39th birthday played in the city for the last time while representing Central zone against South Zone in the inaugural edition of the Deodhar Trophy limited overs tournament. Despite picking up two wickets in his 12 overs – those of Viswanath and Jayantilal and contributing 21 in his inimitable style Central zone were no match for South zone going down by 75 runs.
Durani’s cricketing ties with Madras also extends to a season of first division league cricket in 1962-63 when he played for the city’s leading outfit Jolly Rovers.