Mumbai: Salim 'Daddy' Durani getting the coveted C K Nayudu award from the Board of Control for Cricket in India is one of those decisions that will find few detractors. Enigmatic and in several ways incorrigibly, infuriatingly, hopelessly self-indulgent he may have been, but he is also a much-loved man in Indian cricket.
In more than three decades, I haven't come across anybody who has an ill-word to say about him. Where nuts and bolts existence is concerned, however, this does not mean much. For more than two-thirds of his life, he has struggled to maintain a lifestyle becoming of a stellar cricketer, often with disastrous results. His life skills have been poor to say the least, and while he may have fancied himself as a soldier of fortune, fact remains that either fortune has failed to smile on him often enough or he has spurned it consistently. But he retains his puckish sense of humour. He says he really deserves the Rs 15 lac purse that comes with the award because this can take care of his financial needs for five years at least!
Though I saw him first when India played the West Indies at the Brabourne Stadium in 1966-67 (and he made a scintillating half-century with a huge six in one innings) my abiding memory of Durani is from the 1972-73 series against Tony Lewis' England.
Already past the mid-thirties in age, Durani had become the toast of the country with his free-stroking batting.
He had made a fabulous comeback against all odds with a string of spectacular performances in domestic cricket and when he was dropped for the Mumbai Test, there were protests all over Mumbai saying 'No Durani, No Test'. The Board succumbed to public pressure, Durani played the last Test and hit sixes on demand while scoring 73, which is now part of Indian cricket's folklore.
Was he the best all-rounder from India? With Kapil Dev and Vinoo Mankad as rivals, that proposition seems far-fetched. But it is pertinent to remember that Sir Frank Worrell, after watching Durani make 104 against the West Indies at port of Spain in 1961-62, and hooking Hall, Griffith et al 'off his nose', dared to compare him to Garfield Sobers.
His career as an international player, however, was chequered. He could be brilliant or ordinary, not so much because of his skills or prevailing conditions, but because of his mercurial temperament. At his best, he was no less than a genius; on several other occasions, he could be maddeningly mediocre, leaving fans, critics and one dare say even opponents - wondering at what might have been.
His peak moment came in the Port of Spain Test against the West Indies in 1971 when he dismissed Clive Lloyd and Sobers off successive deliveries. Ajit Wadekar's team went on to register a memorable win in that Test and the course of Indian cricket history had been altered forever.
For that one over alone, the BCCI's decision to give him the Nayudu award even if belated is the mot juste.