Last week was rather enriching. A little holiday away from the city gave me the time I needed to plunge into Jim Laker’s ‘Over to me’ (published in 1960) and Alan Davidson’s ‘15 Yards’ (1965). Of course, the books are worth their pages in gold to the cricket obsessive anyway, but what struck me was that both Laker and Davidson speak at length about issues – excessive cricket, administrative boo-boos, illegal bowling actions, home advantage – that are concerns even now. More now, I suppose. Uhh … the IPL season’s upon us, isn’t it?
The one issue that particularly agitated Laker, but also moved Davidson, was the amateurs vs professionals debate. See what I mean? Even in the 1950s and 1960s, players were talking about money, about amateurs being given more than their due and professionals getting a raw deal at times. In Laker’s case, there’s also a fleeting mention of how it might have made more sense for him to switch back to amateur status, as he would stand to earn more that way.
Shades of the club vs country debate there, won’t you say? So often the two of them talk about preserving and protecting the game. Fine, I admit it; the fact that I was reading the books just days before the 2013 edition of the IPL kicks off may have caused me to focus on all of this disproportionately, perhaps.
But the fact is that when I sat down to write this week’s Jiminy Cricket, I had no plans of talking about Laker or Davidson. This column was going to be all about Salim Durrani instead. Someone I have spent many happy hours talking sense and not-sense with over the years, but also someone who, with his memory playing tricks with him at times, requires me to introduce myself to him – at length often – each time we meet or I make a long-delayed phone call. Prince Salim. A charmer if there ever was one.
I never saw Salim saab play except in one random video. He bowled a couple of unmemorable deliveries in it and there was the shot of him getting out. It was easy to tell that he was big built. I suppose, since you knew the fact anyway, he looked powerful. And, of course, he was quite stylish, but so was everyone else at the time.
But it’s the stories you heard about him from his band of sycophants* and the stories he is so happy to tell and re-tell himself – the details not always the same, especially after a drink or two – that really give you an idea of what he might have been about.
Was he an outstanding bowler? Probably not, though averaging 26.09 in first-class cricket and 35.42 in 29 Test matches weren’t too bad considering he wasn’t a frontline bowler. Indeed, his left-arm orthodox deliveries were only an add-on to his primary trait – big-hitting. Standing at just over six feet (though age – he is close to 80 now – has caused him to stoop a bit), Durrani had good reach and tremendous power, and he used both to great effect. Apparently, he was the favourite of the crowds in Gujarat, Rajasthan and Saurashtra, all of which he represented at different times, for his six-hitting prowess. It is rumoured that as soon as the crowds chanted ‘we want sixer’, Durrani would respond with one. Part of this must be myth, because in his 50 Test innings, he hit only 16 sixes – unless we conclude that the spectators were not very demanding at all.
But it seems there was something special or magical to the man – just the sort of thing that would have made him an IPL icon. What he appeared capable of in the 1960s would have been magnified all these years later with the bats getting heavier and meatier – and clearing the boundaries, especially in Twenty20 cricket, becoming easier. Even more so with many rules of the game being altered to suit the big-hitting batters. But above all else, keeping his interest in the world of glamour and showbiz in mind (he starred in a film called Charitra in 1973, the year he played the last of his 29 Tests), it’s a no-brainer that Durrani would have fitted into the IPL carnival like a fish to water. In fact, letting my imagination go slightly wild and wonky, I think their shared association with Afghanistan might have led Shah Rukh Khan to pick Durrani as a mascot of sorts for his team! Or if not that, just for his sheer star power.
Really, the list of one-time stars who some of us think might have made stellar performers in Twenty20 cricket is long. From Don Bradman to Keith Miller, Garry Sobers to Ian Botham, there are around 20 Twenty20 dream teams that will never be tested in front of Lasith Malinga or Sunil Narine. But, somewhere, maybe because of the limited success he enjoyed as an international cricketer – despite, supposedly, having the promise to do much more – I wish Salim Durrani had had a chance to ‘hit it’.
He was apparently too much of a showman, too much of a crowd-pleaser, too much of an entertainer, a man with too much charisma, to make it work in the more straight-laced 1960s and 1970s. Five days wasn’t for him. Maybe. Maybe, three hours was more his thing, as might have been the case with so many others. Then, there was no option. And the money wasn’t great either. Today, a Salim Durrani might have become a super star. Like Laker once wished for himself, Durrani could have been an ‘amateur’ – circa 2013, he would be called a ‘freelancer’ though.
*Strangely (or maybe it’s the measure of the man), I have often met Salim saab surrounded by his band of not-too-young friends, who are happy to play their roles even today, when too much of a good life and some erroneous financial decisions have pulled him some distance down from the pedestal he once sat on.