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Durani, a blast from the past
Salim Durani and Kapil Dev sharing the same table at the BCCI awards function last week upped the emotional quotient of an otherwise prosaic evening. In Kapil's case, in a sense, it was the return of the prodigal. The 1983 World Cup winning captain had been out of favour ever since he had become the face of the Indian Cricket League in 2007. Did his presence at the event signal Kapil's return back to the fold? I won't jump the gun on that, but the portents are encouraging.
Durani, on the other hand, who had been lost to the establishment for many years, had been found again, this time as recipient of the prestigious CK Nayudu Lifetime Achievement award. A soldier of fortune, but with more misses than hits in his personal and professional lives, Durani seemed condemned to spend old age in obscurity till this award happened.
There have been few all-rounders in the game as naturally gifted as these two, and if you include the late Vinoo Mankad, the list from India is pretty much exhausted though there is a surfeit of so-called 'utility' players. Mankad, Durani and Kapil could have played for India either as batsmen or bowlers, which really is the hall-mark of the 'genuine' all-rounder.
Between the three, Durani suffers in comparison in terms of statistics: just 1, 202 runs and only 75 wickets in 29 Tests is modest. He fares much better in all first class cricket, with 8, 435 runs and 484 wickets in 170 matches. But clearly these figures reflect what might have been rather than actualisation of potential.
Nevertheless, he had strong votaries to ratify his brilliance. The late ML Jaisimha, during one memorable night of rum-induced deep nostalgia in Colombo in 1985 (Jai was manager on that tour) told me that "Durani would have broken several records had he wanted, so flush was he with talent".
If that sounds like a friend's gush, it is pertinent to remember that Sir Frank Worrell, after seeing Durani's swashbuckling 104 at Port of Spain in 1962 (hooking Hall and Griffith off his nose, as one description went), opined that the left-hander was every bit as good as Garfield Sobers.
The preceding season, Durani had taken 8 wickets at Kolkata and 10 at Chennai with his left-arm spin to help beat Ted Dexter's England team and it appeared that India had found a match-winner par excellence. Alas, he never quite fulfilled this early promise.
The history of sport is replete with flawed geniuses and, like, say, George Best in football, Durani must fall into that category. Perhaps he lacked proper mentorship, though more likely he lacked the discipline - mental and physical - which makes for supreme achievers. He was not ambitious enough.
But every now and then, he would come up with a performance that would dazzle the world. Apart from those mentioned earlier, his wickets off successive deliveries to dismiss Sobers and Clive Lloyd at Port of Spain in 1971 changed the course of the innings, match, series and Indian cricket history.
In 1972-73, I saw him play his last Test. He was 38, and while fielding at least clearly long in the tooth. But when he came out to bat against England, the Brabourne Stadium was all agog. "We want six, " they yelled, and Durani obliged. Once, twice, then faded away into cricket lore with his angular gait and collar upturned: his full genius perhaps unrealised, but a hero forever.
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