Six hitter Salim Durani: The debonair cricketer crosses 86

Fifty years ago, in February 1971, the Indian cricket team began its tour of West Indies which ended in a historic series win for the visitors. It was India’s first ever triumph against West Indies in West Indies. There were many players who shone on the tour. Sunil Gavaskar was outstanding with the bat. So was Dilip Sardesai. But many other players too made important contributions.

One of them was the tall and dashing Salim Durani who turned the tables around with two crucial wickets. Being one of the senior members of the team, he dismissed Gary Sobers and Clive Lloyd in the same over and broke the back of the formidable West Indies batting in the Test at Port of Spain.

His feats made him one of the most popular cricketers in India.

But the story of Salim Durani began many years ago in Afghanistan. Salim’s grandparents ran a dry fruits business in Kabul. His father Abdul Aziz Durani was born there. Abdul Aziz grew up to be a good cricket player and coach and was called Master Aziz. For some time he lived in Saurashtra where he got a job. After the partition of India he went to Pakistan as a cricket coach. But his family stayed back. 

The little Salim grew up into a tall and handsome young man who like his father Abdul Aziz Durani, became a talented cricketer. He was selected to play for Saurashtra, then Gujarat, and finally Rajasthan before being selected for India in 1960. 

Two years later, Durani was the hero of India’s series victory against England in 1961–62. He took 8 and 10 wickets in India’s victories in the Tests at Kolkata and Chennai. But his greatest moments in international cricket came in 1971.

The 1971 tour of West Indies was his second tour to the Caribbean Islands. He said later that when he had gone for the first time in 1962, the pitches were hard and quick. But on the second occasion in 1971, the wickets had become slower. So it made things a little easier for the Indian batsmen as the pace of the West Indian fast bowlers was blunted. 

About his two important wickets (Sobers and Lloyd) he said that he first pitched some deliveries outside the off stump to Gary Sobers. Then he pitched one on a rough spot. It hit the spot, turned and beat Sobers and took the stump off. The great Sobers couldn’t believe it. He walked off muttering “Oh Jesus”. 

Then came the wicket of the tall and burly Clive Lloyd. After making Lloyd play a few deliveries on the off, Durani over pitched one on the same line but with more vicious turn. Lloyd tried to loft it over the field but was decieved by the extra turn. Durani had anticipated this. He had asked Ajit Wadekar to stand at mid wicket and the Indian captain took a good catch.

Durani always had the air of a cavalier. In this respect he was very much like a cricketer from the Caribbean islands. He was immensely popular with the cricket fans. They would chant — “We Want A Six ” and Durani would oblige them by lofting the ball over the boundary as many times as they wanted. So it was no surprise that he became the darling of the crowds. 

Once when he was left out of the team, protests broke out in the city. People shouted slogans that they would not allow the Test to be held if Durani was not in the team. The banners read, “No Durani, No Test.” 

So that was Salim Durani. Handsome, debonair and loved by all. He continues to lead an active life in Jamnagar. He crossed his 86th birthday last year. May the Almighty grant him many more years of happiness with his children and grandchildren.

Abhijit Sen Gupta is a seasoned journalist who writes on Sports and various other subjects.

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