Nari Contractor’s name will always be synonymous with courage and captaincy. Truly, the captain is courageous, and his deeds should forever remain a torch of inspiration for Indian cricket. None deserved less than the cruel fate that overtook him in Barbados.
As he passed through London on his way home, after surviving a serious operation, he received me with all the courtesy and frankness he had unfailingly shown me during the series with England in India in 1961–62.
The quality of courage was woven like a golden thread through a career and was first shown in England at Lord’s in 1959. In those years, the Lord’s surface had a famous ridge at one end, and the ball was wont to fly most dangerously. Fast bowlers were in their element.
In the second test, a ball from Brian Statham that was rising struck Nari Contractor. The impact could be heard on the ground. The contractor sank to the ground, but after a rest, he insisted on continuing an innings that had become invaluable to India.
Afterward, it became apparent that a rib had broken, and it wasn’t until tea that his teammates persuaded him to use a runner. For most of his 4-hour stay, he must have been in acute discomfort and pain. Yet he hit six and nine fours for a score of 81, which kept India in the game.
Of Real Guts
In the course of covering almost 200 Test matches in all parts of the world, I have seen some innings of real guts, and Contractor’s innings at Lord’s stand high in my memory. To stand up to Fred Trueman, Brian Statham, supported by Middlesex’s Moss, was specially recruited for obvious reasons, needed skills, and resolution of a tall order. To do so successfully, the man must put up with the discomfort and movement restrictions brought on by a cracked rib.
India needed his tenacity in the home series against England. They did not understand what he was trying to do. and his form began to suffer with the responsibility of leadership. There was a call for his head by a section of the public.
Understandably, there was some impatience for quick results, for England’s team was under par and was not up to India’s strength (although in passing, I would point out that the only time Ted Dexter won the toss and batted first, England had the advantage of drawing another one up to Nari!).
The contractor’s form fell away, although he came up with a vital 86 in the last test at Madras and shared an opening stand of 121 with M.L. Jaisimha in the third test at New Delhi. Nari Contractor had to turn a deaf ear to the criticism and get on with his job. And that? To get the many brilliant individuals to work as a team,
Aims and Strategies
Frankly, I do not think the public and critics of India fully appreciated the great work Nari Contractor did in this major matter. The defeat of England for the first time was as much Contractor’s triumph as that of any of the leading players. His quiet personality came through, and, to the outsider like myself, there was strong evidence of all pulling together for the benefit of the side. No one dares tell me this has always been the case.
Nari Contractor at the helm would have produced better results than others were able to do in the previous series. I had the utmost respect for Nari Contractor’s aims and long-term strategies. No serious mistakes were made against England, and he did not suffer from the rash of theories that have handicapped other captains. In this matter, I am referring mainly to Englishmen.
After the victory over England, Nari Contractor took his team to the West Indies, and though I could not share India’s outcome, I thought a new and more promising era had arrived. Fate decreed otherwise. Amid his building, the house was torn down, and Nari Contractor was no longer captain.
The leadership went to Mansoor Ali Khan (Nawab of Pataudi) before he was fully prepared. In the circumstances, the latter has done extraordinarily well, and both he and India should further benefit from his experience as captain of Sussex in 1966.
Epic of Resolution
As a batsman, Contractor had his limitations. In 1959, in England, he reached 1,183 runs with a respectable average of 31.13. More gifted Indian batsmen have not been able to show such a satisfactory overall performance. Always there was the quiet and characteristic determination that was the hallmark of a Nari Contractor.
The feather-touch deflections, the neat strokes off his legs, and the driving, which the purists were quick to notice, were sometimes done with a cross-bat. Nevertheless, the cross-bat shots in front of the wicket brought him many runs, including 114 against A.E.R. Gilligan’s XI at the Hastings Festival. One of his better innings to relish and savor was 65 of the Test-standard Surrey attack.
A half-century at the Oval facing Peter Loader and the Bedser twins, Lock and Laker, was worth more than a century at the universities, or against counties of lesser strength. Nari Contractor’s virtue in England was shown in his ability to rise to the occasion. His innings at Lord’s were almost an epic of resolution.
At home, Contractor scored a century in both innings of his first match for Gujarat against Baroda in 1952. That indeed was a spicy entry in the record books, as were his four centuries in successive matches. And the old courage came to the fore again with his 108 in the Third Test against Australia at Bombay in 1959.
In England, we think any batsman who can hit a century in Australia is in a class apart. For real worth, give me the batsman who can point to a performance against Australia—still the hardest opposition in the world.
In his 31 tests, Nari Contractor hit 1,611 runs with an average of 31.58, a commendable record. Remember, as an opening batsman, he faced the new ball and played at a time when there were many outstandingly good fast bowlers like Alan Davidson, Wes Hall, Freddy Trueman, Brian Statham, and Peter Loader?
My latest news about Nari was that he took part in the net practice wearing a reinforced pith helmet to protect his head. How typical! My salutations to a batsman and captain who did much for Indian cricket and even more to help international relations. A good cricketer, sportsman, captain, and diplomat A great ambassador for India.