Salim Durani – The Big Hearted Six Hitting Batsman
It is not the sixes that Salim Durani hit (even though I saw some of them) or the wickets that he grabbed that are in my mind most of the time. My observations are not limited to those I saw in New Delhi, but I also saw the manner in which he arrived at the press conference.
Just a handful of journalists were there and we had to wait for a bit before we were allowed in. Upon entering the room, Salim Durani waved cheerfully at the crowd and looked around as if he was acknowledging the cheers of a crowd in a stadium as he walked in. He made a dramatic gesture, which suggested he knew he was entitled to love and respect. The fact that he made an impact on up to six thousand coups was known to him.
It went beyond mere self-confidence or entitlement. There was a sharing of charisma, a doubling of joy. I have never witnessed such goodwill from a sportsman. The news of his last days was read with a heavy heart. He spent these days alone, without the glamour, the public love, and the unwavering admiration of those who had crossed his path.
However, Salim Durani lived a life well lived. Neither in his cricket nor in his life, he understood moderation and occasionally paid for it. Although he played only 29 Tests as India played 65, few cricketers have inspired such an outpouring of grief from such a wide range of personalities. Politicians (of different hues) and artists became fanboys, united by their admiration for a man who played and lived unlike anyone else. Probably Salim Durani’s admiration (some sources report two autographs, but most mention one) lies in that admiration.
While cricket played an important role, it wasn’t the only factor. He played a crucial role in two series victories, the first against England at home in 1961-62 and the second in the West Indies a decade later. The best thing about Durani was his personality-talented, handsome, confident, unstoppable, and patently life-affirming, able to do things others couldn’t and without much effort on his part.
Many males believe they have a little bit of Salim Durani inside them, just waiting to be unlocked! The more discipline he had, the more runs he could have scored and wickets he could have taken. However, he wouldn’t have been Durani.
In the course of a famous victory, he would not have virtually grabbed the ball from his skipper Ajit Wadekar and dismissed Garry Sobers and Clive Lloyd. During the time when Indian batsmen considered playing in the air a mortal sin, he wouldn’t have hit 15 sixes in 29 Test matches (Farokh Engineer had two sixes in 46 matches).
It was Erapalli Prasanna who once sent me a photo of the Fabulous Four – Bishan Bedi, Bhagwat Chandrasekhar, Venkatraghavan, and himself – with a note saying “Genius in the middle.”. Salim Durani was genius. The genius lived with all the flaws and vulnerabilities of ordinary people – inconsistency, odd flashes of ordinary, self-doubt, and un-leadability.
He often said that Tiger Pataudi regretted not being able to get the best out of Salim Durani, even though he made his only Test century in the West Indies after Pataudi had put him at No. 3 in the first innings, six places above the order. He organized Central Zone’s triumph in the Duleep Trophy (when it still meant something and was just one step below Test cricket) when I was a boy in Bangalore. They were so confident that West would beat Central in the semifinals that they prepared for a match between West and South in the finals.
Salim Durani helped beat West (7/111 and 83) and South (9/87 and 83 not out). The performance was indeed magical. Thus, Central Zone became a cricketing powerhouse. There are some of the greatest cricketers to have played the game who weren’t honored because of their averages. Their contribution to the game was similar to that of the Australian Victor Tramper. He captured the imagination of a nation, and that’s an epitaph reserved for the greatest.
In 1934, Salim Durani was born in Kabul, Afghanistan. Only Afghanistan player who has represented India in Test cricket. Salim Durani was a cricketing legend and an institution in his own right. Over the course of nearly 13 years, the all-rounder played 29 Tests for India with the flair of a magician.
Salim Durani, the former India all-rounder, died at the age of 88. Durani had undergone a surgical procedure to repair his broken thigh bone after he fell in January 2023 in Jamnagar, Gujarat. The flamboyant all-rounder played 29 Tests for India from 1960 to 1973, scoring 1,202 runs at an average of 25.04, with one century (104 against West Indies in 1962) and seven fifties. In his left-arm spinner career, he took 75 wickets at an average of 35.42.
Salim Durani played first-class cricket for Saurashtra, Gujarat, and Rajasthan. Over a span of 23 years from 1953-54 to 1977-78, he amassed 8,545 runs and 484 wickets at 26 runs each. He was a mainstay for Rajasthan in the 1960s, a decade when they were perennial bridesmaids to Bombay in Ranji Trophy. Durani was much more than just numbers. Salim Durani told an interview in 2021
“That he was mainly a bowler, but he could also bat well. You could call him a bowling all-rounder.”
One of his greatest moments was his match-turning spell against the West Indies at Port of Spain in 1971. As India won the first Test in the Caribbean, Durant dismissed Clive Lloyd and Garry Sobers within a few balls in the fourth innings. I bowled very well in the Test series we won in 1971. I got Garry Sobers and Clive Lloyd out. I should have taken more wickets. That was my most memorable day on the field.”
In the world of cricket, he played an important role in India’s rise. He was known for his style both on and off the field. Condolences to his family and friends on his passing. Modi tweeted, “May his soul rest in peace.”
In a statement, BCCI president Roger Binny said: Salim Durani played with grace, flair, and passion. We have lost one of Indian cricket’s iconic figures with his death. Despite his impressive performances in international cricket, his accomplishments in domestic cricket still serve as a source of inspiration for our cricketers. I extend my condolences to his family and friends.”
Born in Kabul, Afghanistan, he was raised in Jamnagar and learned to play cricket there. It didn’t matter where he lived in India. No matter where he went, he was never short of well-wishers due to his charisma and friendly nature. India won a series against England in 1961-62 due to the bowling and wicket-taking ability of Durani in Calcutta and Madras. In one instance when fans protested with placards and slogans in 1973 when Durani was dropped from the Kanpur Test against England. That was the sheer love of fans to support Salim Durani in a crucial time.
It was also against West Indies at Port of Spain that he scored his only Test century. After batting at No 9 in India’s first innings of the fourth Test in Trinidad in 1962, he was promoted to No 3 for their second innings and scored 104. Even as the home team won by seven wickets in the fourth innings, he took all three West Indies wickets. Due to his stylish stroke play and ability to hit sixes on demand, Durani was a crowd favorite.
Never believed in playing tuk-tuk, I always liked to hit the ball. I enjoyed hitting sixes and would do so when the crowd demanded. Along with two other charismatic Indian cricketers of that era, I was very popular with the crowd.
Salim Durani was one of the most popular cricketers of his generation, along with ML Jaisimha and Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi. As a romantic lead in a Bollywood movie, he teamed up with Parveen Babi.
Mansoor Pataudi had his own style, and ML Jaisimha had his own personality, but mine was different. Durani was a natural cricketer who dressed up well, but never tried to impress people. He was a popular figure all over India. While he did not realize his immense potential as a cricketer, he was arguably second to none in terms of name and fame.
With a large circle of friends in every city in India, he remained a popular figure across the country. Mumbai had been his lucky place, he had said. My favorite place was Mumbai. From a cricketing perspective, Mumbai became very lucky for me. Also, I played a lot of cricket in Hyderabad.
I would become popular in any city I went to. When we were there, we mixed with people and tried to adapt to the city’s basic culture, which is why everyone liked us.” Following his cricketing career, he spent most of his time in Mumbai, spending most of his evenings at the most fashionable clubs and gymkhanas. He settled down in Jamnagar only after his health started deteriorating, where his extended family took care of him.
Moreover, Salim Durani became the first cricketer to win the Arjuna Award, then the highest sporting honor in the country, in the early 1960s. CK Nayudu Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to him by the Indian cricket board at an award function in Mumbai in May 2011. His only regret was not being able to play and tour in England.
My batting and bowling performances would have been much improved on English pitches, which were more conducive to my style of play. However, I have no regrets. I did my best for the Indian team during my two trips to West Indies with the team.