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Vol. XXXIII No. 2, May 1-15, 2023

Durani’s special bond with Madras

-- by Partab Ramchand

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.

Salim Aziz Durani. Picture courtesy: The Hindu.

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.

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  1. C.K. SUBRAMANIAM says:

    First and only Afghanistan-born cricketer to play test cricket for India will forever remain “Prince Salim” of Indian cricket no more. He died at a ripe age of 88 and lived to remain a mark as “Ask for a six man” and so was the darling of the crowd. A Flamboyant cricketer, Salim Aziz Durrani was awarded the C.K. Nayudu Lifetime Achievement Award by the BCCI in 2011. He was the first cricketer to win the prestigious Arjuna Award in 1960.

    He was not only Mr. Sixer – King of hearts and acted in Bollywood film Charitra with Praveen Babi as the heroine. Durrani played 29 Tests for India and took 75 wickets, with the best bowling figure of 10 for 177. With the bat in hand, he scored 1202 runs with the highest score of 104 against West Indies. The former all-rounder was famous for his heroic performance in India’s series victory against England in 1961-62. He scalped eight and ten wickets in the Kolkata and Chennai Tests to guide India to a 2-0 series victory. He celebrated his 89th birthday last December 11.

    This left-handed batting and bowling all-rounder has also been famous for hitting sixes on the audience’s voice on the field. The credits of making the Indian team taste the victory by removing great batsmen like Gary Sobers and Clive Lloyd on the land of West Indies. Salim Durrani is a cricketer of that time when cricket was really a game of gentlemen. The management and administration of Indian cricket was also in the hands of clean people then. A mediocre batting average of 25- plus doesn’t tell the whole story. At a time when Test match fee was Rs 300, Durani was more of an amateur, whose only agenda was to enjoy and let others have fun.

    What if Durrani hadn’t bowled his prodigious “break back” that turned square from outside the off-stump to breach through the bat and pad of a technician par excellence like Sir Gary. In fact, Port of Spain was as dear to Durrani as Venkatraghavan ran through West Indies batsmen with 5 for 95 bowling figures in the second innings. In 1962, a specialist middle-order batter went in at No.3 with the fearsome Wes Hall, the wily Gary Sobers and the great Lance Gibbs asking probing questions. The result was a career-best knock of 104, with India following on.

    Why he couldn’t make it to any tour of Australia, England and New Zealand is something that remains beyond anyone’s comprehension, as some really below average players were picked during those times, when merit often got compromised. He was brought back for the Bombay Test, where he smashed 73 in the first innings with 10 fours and two sixes, and 37 in the second essay. Unfortunately, that turned out to be his last Test, as he wasn’t selected for the England tour of 1974. Thus his cricketing career started at the Brabourne Stadium and ended at the same venue. He continued playing Ranji Trophy for Rajasthan and ended a distinguished first class career with 8,545 runs and 484 wickets in 1976-77, when he was well into his mid 40s. We missed out seeing whacking the ball in one day cricket. Cricket fraternity lost out a dashing cricketer Durrani. Durrani will forever reside as “Shahzada Salim” His tint with Spencers and the love for Chepauk hitting six of Poccck

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