The excitement keeps mounting as the Indian Premier League (IPL) marches on with all the paraphernalia of a cricketing extravaganza. The jubilation of the cricket--lovers in the galleries, rain of sixes disappearing into the crowd or whistling past. None exhibiting this better than Kolkata Knight Riders’ Rinku Singh with his mind-blowing five sixes in an over the other day. Sizzling bowling and razor-sharp fielding. Well, there is about everything the fans would die for in this modern version of cricket.
Even as the magic goes on comes a strange note of coincidence, the sad news of the passing of one of India’s biggest ‘six’ hitters of an era gone by, Salim Durani! Just like the great footballing legend Pele who passed away just days after the Qatar World Cup ended after being in a sick bed for a while, here was one of India’s colourful players of yesteryear taking the final bow in the midst of what he would have loved most, cricketing action at its best! Sporting attachments, as they say!
Indeed, as cricket lovers would themselves vouch, had the elegant left-hander Durani been playing in this era when cricket had evolved from Tests to the one-dayers and the T20s, he would have been a hero many times over. Such used to be his flair, be it batting or bowling. Those were the days when a hit over the boundary was never a frequently employed stroke. Perhaps most batsmen were not up to it to face the perils of hitting in the air. In this setting, when someone strokes with a rare felicity, then Durani’s popularity can be imagined. They say he would hit a sixer on demand though he had himself admitted that he had always played each ball on its merit. Only when loose balls came his way would he give the treatment. “Perhaps there were too many thrown at me”, he would joke when people reminded him of the delight he created with the bat!
Jokes apart, his performance against Tony Lewis’ English team in the 1972-73 series put him on the list of great hitters. The way he had eased into bowlers of the stature of Norman Gifford and Derek Underwood and lifted the balls into the sky, he had set a benchmark for himself. The crowd loved the sight of the ball crashing into the advertisement boards, and the cry for more went up each time he was at the crease. Yet for all this, Durani was humble to admit that when it came to hitting the ball over the boundary, his admiration was always for the West Indian legend Gary Sobers. Sure enough, Sobers was the first batter to hit six sixes in an over, a deed he achieved in 1968, and the bowler to suffer was Malcolm Nash of England.
What earned Durani special notice in Indian cricket? Definitely his ability with the bat and the ball, but perhaps also his dapper looks. The six-footer oozed charm, and some say he had the same popularity as the big names of those times in Bollywood. Why, Durrani even rose to dabble in films and did a movie too. But that is a different story for Durrani’s first love was cricket which established him. It was back in the 1962 tour of the Caribbean that set him up as the future Prince of Indian cricket. At a time when West Indies boasted of a fiery pace battery spearheaded by Wesley Hall and Charlie Griffith, Durrani rose to score a scintillating century in the Port of Spain Test. India may have lost that Test but Durrani had proved his worth. That was also the tour where Nari Contractor suffered a head blew off a Griffith short ball and had to undergo an emergency operation.
Durani may have had his frailties, and fitness was one. But when it came to performance this Rajasthan player was a class apart. If it was not batting, then it had to be his bowling. Some say the two wickets he took against West Indies in the 1971 Port of Spain Test, particularly the ball that bowled out Gary Sobers, was an outstanding effort. In domestic cricket, he had singlehandedly helped Central Zone once to win the Duleep Trophy. Those were the days when all this and the fact that he was the first Arjuna Award winner in cricket, Durani did not move around like the modern crop of players with a rich bank account as support. Money and riches came later, and more so with the advent of the shorter versions of the game. Durani had by then said goodbye to the sport. Just imagine, with the modern-day bats and playing conditions, how someone like Durani would have relished!
For someone acknowledged as a source of enjoyment by a legion of fans for his exploits on the cricket field, Durrani must have had several moments to reminisce watching the current players doing what he did best in his young days! That way like Pele, who was fortunate to watch the best of football till his last breath, Durani too would not have missed the feast that IPL had been providing. Yes, in his own style, he would have said, ‘I had my time, and now it is their era.’