The sport of cricket, if not anything else, had always promised grace and style in its execution and form. In the modern formats of quick entertainment the fast pace and result-at-any-cost have taken over that charm, but yet the romanticism of a graceful exhibition of the skills have kept the oldest format alive. The rhythm in the feet, the arcs and angles of the players’ movements, the white dress, high collars on the green grass, all of them somehow brought the game a somewhat artistic aura. The connoisseurs have always told stories of those who played the game not with success only, but who played with grace, flair and flamboyance. One such name will always remain embossed in Indian cricket history and that one is of Salim Aziz Durani. In an essay Sankaran Krishna summed up Durani’s grace and lazy elegance with an amazing phrase. He wrote that Durani had a jawline that made the Marlboro Man look a wimp. But a someone with natural abilities like Durani could never be judged by his good looks only. He was a kind of enigma to the audience and fellow players. Many thought that his stature as an all-rounder could have been much more than what his career averages suggest, if only he had a professional focus to his game and therefore career. Durani was cricket’s first authentic celebrities. He had the looks of a movie star looks, the talent and flamboyance on the field that he used to create magic in the middle of the pitch. In the 1960’s he was literally worshipped in India. The word swagger got its dimensional match in Sir Vivian Richards much later, but in Durani’s days he was no less. He would always keep his collars up as he walked to bat for Rajasthan in the Ranji trophy, with an intentional slow walk to the batting wicket taking his own sweet time.
As a star left handed all-rounder his cricketing career spanned for long two and a half decades. Nicknamed Prince, he carried the legend of hitting sixes on demand in the 60’s & 70’s. One must remain aware of the socio-cultural atmosphere of that time. An Indian sportsperson showing aggression in an international arena was not a small thing. He was an unbelievable athlete as well. The accounts narrated by people who watched him running at full speed to hold on to a magnificent catch in Chepauk, of Chandrashekhar to dismiss Chris Old made him some sort of a fielding icon in those days. His such heroics made him the star that he was. He was the first recipient of Arjuna award in cricket in 1961.
He is the son of Afghan parents with a Pathani lineage and is the only Indian test cricketer to have born in Afghanistan. Durani was the chief guest of honour for the inaugural test match of Afghanistan Vs. India at Bengaluru on June, 2018. Among his many memorable feats on the ground the one that will always remain in the collective memory of Indian cricket lovers was one of Port of Spain, against West indies. He was the hero of India’s series victory against England in 1961- 62. Sir Clive Lloyd and Sir Garfield Sobers were the most formidable players of that side and they were at the peak of their powers as well. It was Durani who took those two invaluable wickets by his left arm spin in India’s maiden test victory in 1971 against West Indies. His way of aggressive cricket where he would always want to dominate his opponents made him to believe, in retrospection, that he would have succeeded in these times of fast one day internationals or twenty-twenties. His natural ability was no less than his much more illustrious successor, Kapil Dev. Cricket and all of its forms came easy to him.
The sport has undergone mammoth changes over the years and yet the yearning for the charm and romanticism which make us love the game so much will never die. Salim Durani, who is batting strongly at 88 not out, will remain as a graceful moment in our collective cricket memory.
Very well written. Enjoyed this.