Salim Durani, born on December 11, 1934 was a flamboyant all-rounder who played for India in the 1960-70s. He is famous for hitting sixes on demand and also being one of the few cricketers to have acted in a movie. Despite being a good all-rounder, he played only 29 Tests for India. In an exclusive interview on the occasion of his 78th birthday, Durani looks back at his career with CricketCountry’s Correspondent Nishad Pai Vaidya.
CricketCountry (CC): You are the only Test cricketer who is born in Afghanistan. Can you tell us something about your early days and how you took up cricket?
Salim Durani (SD): Though I was born in Afghanistan, I was eight months old when we moved to Karachi. My father was a sportsman and there was a sporting atmosphere in the house. In fact, he played a few unofficial Test matches for India under the leadership of Colonel CK Nayudu. My father then came down to Jamnagar for the services of Jam Saheb (Ruler of Jamnagar). The great Ranjitsinhji was the Jam Saheb at one time and there was that atmosphere and a sense of history there. Growing up in such a setting, I took a liking to cricket, but also played other sports such as football, tennis.
CC: In 1960, you made your Test debut against the touring Australians at Mumbai. What are your recollections of your debut? After all, it was the game after India had beaten Australia for the first time in Tests (Kanpur)?
SD: I wasn’t in the eleven for the historic Kanpur Test, but was there in the squad. Lala Amarnath had kept Milkha Singh, Budhi Kunderan and myself in the team. From Kanpur, we headed to Mumbai for the next Test where I got a chance against Richie Benaud’s Australians. I was in the team as an all-rounder. Before the Mumbai Test, Jasubhai (Jasu Patel) – hero of the Kanpur Test – suffered from food poisoning as a result of which I got into the Indian team.
CC: A number of cerebral cricketers rated you very highly. Frank Worrell even compared you to Garry Sobers. However, you only played 29 Tests, why do you think you didn’t play more?
SD: It was up to the selectors. In 1966, I played for India against the West Indies. At Mumbai, Chandu Borde and I put on a 100-run partnership. However, I was hit on the ankle and was ruled out of the next Test. I was always a deserving candidate, but Vijay Merchant wanted to groom young cricketers – so I was not in the Indian team for five years. Then, in 1971, when I won the Duleep Trophy singlehandedly for Central Zone and I was called up for the tour to the West Indies.
CC: On your comeback during the memorable tour to the West Indies in 1971, your wickets of Clive Lloyd and Garry Sobers in the Trinidad Test were crucial to India winning the Test and ultimately a historic series. Can you describe that moment and the feelings after winning the Test? How important was that victory for Indian cricket?
SD: It was a very different at Trinidad in 1971 compared to the one I saw in 1962. In 1962, it was fast and they had some fine fast bowlers. But in 1971 the wicket was a slow turner and we had great spinners such as Bishan Singh Bedi, (EAS) Prasanna and (Srinivas) Venkatraghavan. They played a crucial role in the second innings when the wicket got even slower. Yes, I bowled well in that game, but unfortunately I didn’t do well overall and played only three Tests. That victory was highly morale-boosting for India and of course, Sunil Gavaskar made a sensational debut on that tour. It was a team effort.
CC: In your final Test, you had a decent outing with the bat. Why weren’t you picked again? Was a fall-out with Vijay Merchant a factor in that?
SD: Vijay Merchant was a great cricketer and he had his own ideas. I wouldn’t like to criticise him. He wanted to back youngsters. He brought so many youngsters, but in the process many vanished. However, that wasn’t a factor in the 1973 Mumbai Test against England being my last. I was already 36-37 then and I felt it was enough, so I called it a day. My first Test was at the Brabourne Stadium as was my final Test.
CC: During your career, you performed well against England a number of times. Which performances would you pick as your best?
SD: When Ted Dexter’s England side came to India in 1961-62, I performed well with both bat and ball. In the fourth Test at Kolkata, I got a five wicket haul in the first innings and three wickets in the second. Then at Chennai in the fifth and final Test of the series, I got a match haul of 10 wickets. In the first Test at Mumbai, I scored 71. Those were my best performances against them.
CC: But, you never toured England?
SD: Yes, I never toured England. The selectors preferred younger players.
CC: 7. You are still remembered for hitting a six on demand. How did you manage to do it? Was it instinctive?
SD: I have hit a six on demand off the fast bowlers only twice. But, I have done it a few more times against the spinners. Six hitting is all about technique; you must get elevation. Being tall helped. It isn’t that I hit a six because people were shouting; I would have done it anyways. By God’s grace I did it whenever the crowds demanded and it happened six or seven times. It is difficult to hit a six on demand, but it happened with me and I became famous.
CC: Do you think you would have enjoyed playing T20 cricket given you ability of hitting sixes?
SD: Oh yes, definitely. I would have enjoyed playing the game and would have also entertained the public. T20 is entertaining, but is a difficult game. As a batsman you have to find the gaps and dominate the bowlers. On the other hand, bowlers have to bowl an economical spell. It is good competition.
CC: The Arjuna Award was bestowed on you – thus becoming the first cricketer to receive it. Recently, you also bagged the lifetime achievement award. What do such accolades and awards mean to you?
SD: These awards mean a lot to me. I am from a middle-class family and we keep working hard. In our family, my sisters etc are all teachers. So accolades and money mean a lot – ones that you earn with your hard work.
CC: How was the experience of acting in a movie? You are one of the few cricketers to have graced the big screen? You didn’t consider acting more?
SD: I had good relations with Dev (Anand) saab and Balraj Sahaniji. In my younger days, I used to go to them and spend time with them. Director Babu Ram Ishara offered me a role to act (in 1973 in the film ”Charithra” opposite Parveen) and I did. The film did well. I didn’t get other roles. After shooting, we used to sit and talk about cricket. It was a wonderful experience for me.
CC: Looking back, do you have any regrets with regards to your cricket career or otherwise?
SD: I am not a person who complains, but I should have played at least 60-70 Test matches. That is life and it happens. Thus, the only regret is that I should have played more for India.
(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and an analyst, anchor and voice-over artist for the site’s YouTube Channel. He shot to fame by spotting a wrong replay during IPL4 which resulted in Sachin Tendulkar’s dismissal. His insights on the game have come in for high praise from cerebral former cricketers. He has also participated on live TV talk-shows on cricket. Nishad can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nishad_44)