Salim Durani. Courtesy: H Natarajan
Salim Durani. Courtesy: H Natarajan

Salim Durani was playing his last First-Class match. A young Arun Lal, miffed at getting bowled by the veteran, decided to egg him on. And Durani responded the way only he could. Abhishek Mukherjee recalls the drama of February 28, 1978.

India have produced greater cricketers than Salim Durani, but few as charismatic. Perpetually on the hunt for wicket with the ball and a cavalier with the bat, Durani was a crowd-puller of the highest order.

His reputation as a six-hitter-on-demand was probably an exaggeration. Perhaps it was triggered by an end-of-career flurry (he hit 8 sixes in his first 45 innings and 7 in his last 5), but there is no doubt that he lofted the ball uninhibitedly.

It was not a coincidence that the Durani, a man with a chiselled face and a physique to match, was the first known Indian Test cricketer to play the lead role in a Bollywood movie (against Parveen Babi, in BR Ishara s Charitra). No wonder they called him Prince.

However, this was going to be his last season. Rajasthan had made it to the quarter-final, as had Delhi. It was likely that he would bow out after the tournament, so at that stage every match could have been the last of his career.

Bishan Singh Bedi won the all-important toss on a flat Kotla track. Kailash Gattani reduced Delhi to 96 for 4, but Arun Lal (117) and Madan Lal (223) then added 234 for the fifth wicket. Bedi declared at 522 for 9. While Suresh Shastri bowled a marathon spell (72-40-140-3), but Durani, at 43, sent down 44 overs as well.

Arun Lal, 100 not out overnight, had resumed batting on Day Two with his eyes on a double-ton. Durani was obviously not going to allow him to get there easily. He stuck to a leg-stump line to stop the flow before turning one that eluded the bat and hit off. Arun Lal was not happy.

Sudhir Pathak and Rakesh Shukla then bowled out Rajasthan for 223 (this included a last-wicket stand of 48). Durani, batting at 7, was bowled by Pathak for a duck before Arun Lal could have a dig at him. Bedi enforced follow-on.

Pijush Pandey (later an advertising legend under the name Piyush) was run out. Durani emerged at 20 for 1. And Arun Lal, at slip, sensed an opportunity to have a go.

Shukla, a Ranji Trophy legend who was given a solitary Test, was bowling his leg-breaks. Come on Rocky, this guy s nervous, let s get him, quipped Arun Lal.

Arun Lal recollected the embarrassment that followed to Rahul Bhattacharya of Wisden Asia Cricket. Durani sliced the next ball past Arun Lal. It was not hit too hard, so Arun Lal had to chase the ball till the ropes.

The next ball was a full-toss. Durani made sure it faced the same fate.

The best of the lot came off the one that followed. Shukla pitched it outside leg. Believe it or not, he withdrew outside the line and sliced it once more to third man.

Obviously, the next ball met the same fate. By then Arun Lal was left panting.

As the fielders crossed ends after the over, Durani told Arun Lal in a matter-of-fact voice: Humko bhi thoda cricket aata hai [I can play cricket somewhat, you know].

Durani scored 44 that day, in his last First-Class innings. Shukla added 7 for 83 to his first-innings haul of 3 for 55 as Rajasthan crashed to 196.

Brief scores:

Delhi 522 for 9 decl. (Mohinder Amarnath 41, Arun Lal 117, Madan Lal 223, Surinder Khanna 44; Kailash Gattani 3 for 85, Suresh Shastri 3 for 140) beat Rajasthan 223 (Parthasarathy Sharma 45, Vinod Mathur 60*; Rakesh Shukla 3 for 55, Sudhir Pathak 4 for 27) and 196 (Salim Durani 44, Vinod Mathur 45; Rakesh Shukla 7 for 83) by an innings and 103 runs.