Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi was once asked to pick his greatest Indian team.Without batting an eyelid, he wanted to put Salim Aziz Durani’s name first on the list.Such was Salim’s aura as a cricketer and performer.
Salim, who passed away in Jamnagar on Sunday morning at 88, was one of the most under-rated cricketers to have played for the country.He was worth more than the 1202 runs and 75 wickets he accumulated in 29 Tests.In 13 of those matches, we played together.
Sunday morning couldn’t have been worse.He was my best buddy, my roommate on several occasions and my partner-in-crime in multiple censored stories during our playing days.
Years later, he would come over from Jamnagar when I landed in Mumbai from the UK and would regularly exchange text messages though we lost touch for the last few years.Whenever we met, we would greet each other with a hearty laugh and a tight hug.
His presence meant a lot to me since he was such a lovely human being.No wonder he was an all-time favourite of the cricket romantics and an absolute rock star.
The son of Afghan parents with a Pathani lineage, Salim was born in undivided India and relocated to Jamnagar.He was a perfect entertainer and a talented all-rounder.
I was fortunate to have kept wickets against some of the best in the business, including the great Bishan Singh Bedi and Vinoo Mankad.
But Salim never got his due as a left-arm spinnerHe was crafty, would give the ball a real rip and could turn it on any wicket.Sadly, he too never realised his potential.
He was a match-winner, both with the bat and ball.In the West Indies in 1971, he dismissed Garfield Sobers and Clive Lloyd in the space of a few balls in the second innings in Port of Spain.It turned the Test, and ultimately the series, in India’s favour.
As for batting, he is best remembered for his 104 against the likes of Wesley Hall, Charlie Stayers and Sobers in the second innings at Queen’s Park Oval in 1962.Had he played today, he would easily have been among the highest earners in the IPL for his strokeplay.
He could hit sixes at will on public demand, earning him the sobriquet of ‘Mr Sixer’.During the 1972-73 Test at Eden Gardens, there was a loud roar from the East stand, “Salimbhai, we want a sixer”.I was batting with Salim and remember him hoisting Derek Underwood into that very section of the stadium a few balls later.
The last Test of the same series in Bombay turned out to be his final one and was preceded by controversy.Despite decent performances, Salim had been dropped from the squad, leading to public ire.“No Durani, No Test” posters sprang up at various places, forcing the selectors to finally relent.
Vijay Merchant was the chairman of selectors then and horrendous politics prevailed.Salim was dropped for four years, from January 1967 to January 1971, before being recalled for the 1971 tour of the West Indies.Merchant was never fond of flamboyant characters like Tiger, Salim and me though it never affected our game.
There are not many ‘clean’ stories to narrate about Salim, but being around him was great fun.He attracted a lot of women because of his debonair nature and good looks, tales which will remain untold.
Not surprisingly he also dabbled in Bollywood, starring opposite Parveen Babi in the movie Charitra in 1973.
But he was also very generous and always the happy-go-lucky sortHe didn’t have a lot of money but that didn’t stop him from being magnanimous.
I still remember him offering drinks to some of his unknown fans at the hotel bar in Calcutta one evening.Former Board president Raj Singh Dungarpur and industrialist Yusuf Hamied of Cipla helped him financially in his later years.
Not just Tiger, Salim would always have featured in my best Indian XI too.RIP my friend, my partner in crime, I will always miss you.
As told to Indranil Majumdar