He never did get the recognition he deserved during his playing days. And now the CK Nayudu Lifetime achievement award also has come a little too late for 76-year-old Salim Durrani. Some of the awardees have been very much junior to him - MAK Pataudi, Erapalli Prasanna, BS Bedi, BS Chandrasekhar, S Venkatraghavan, Mohinder Amarnath, Gundappa Viswanath. Durrani gets the award 38 years after he played his last Test. Indeed it is over half a century since he made his debut against Australia at Bombay in January 1960.
For that matter it is a moot point whether Durrani's achievements are in keeping with his considerable talent. He played 29 Tests, scored 1202 runs at an average of just over 25 with a lone hundred and took 75 wickets at 35.42 apiece with three five-wicket hauls and one ten-wicket haul. These figures might be dismissed by today's generation who are used to seeing the Indian team notching up one victory after another, the batsmen piling up runs aplenty and bowlers taking wickets by the bucketful. But it is important to remember that Durrani played the vast majority of his career in Indian cricket's developing years when the team was generally struggling and when a draw was considered a moral victory.
Durrani however takes his place in cricketing folklore as a player who entertained, who obliged the spectators with a six on demand. In his hand the bat was like D'Artagnan's sword and the opposition Cardinel Richelieu's men. He was called a moody genius and needed careful handling. Pataudi under whom Durrani played for the majority of his career once admitted that one of the regrets he had during his long reign as captain is that he did not make full use of Durrani's capabilities. The tall left handed all rounder was a player with special qualities and under the circumstances his overall record could be termed a bit disappointing. But perhaps it was not all Durrani's fault. He was dropped more than once without rhyme or reason and before Mohinder Amarnath he was the "Comeback King" of Indian cricket.
Besides being a player who entertained Durrani was also a match winner. He was one Indian cricketer who had the Keith Miller touch of turning the match around with a breezy half century or a couple of quick wickets. In his pomp he was capable of putting the best bowlers to the sword and making the best batsmen look like clowns in the circus. His spectacular deeds have been well documented. How he bowled India to their first series triumph over England in 1961-62 with 18 wickets in the last two Tests, how he hammered Wesley Hall, Charlie Stayers, Lance Gibbs and Gary Sobers in making 104 at Port of Spain in 1962, his career best devastating spell of six for 73 that laid the Australians low at Calcutta in 1964 as the visitors slid sharply from 97 for no loss to 174 all out, the century partnerships he put on more than once with Chandu Borde to rescue India from ticklish situations, the important role he played at Port of Spain in 1971 in shaping a historic victory by removing Sobers and Clive Lloyd in quick succession. Even in his last series against England in 1972-73 at the age of 38 Durrani was still playing a crucial role as a batsman, a timely 53 at Calcutta in a low scoring game which played a vital role in India winning by 28 runs, two knocks of 38 apiece which again played a key role in India squeaking home by four wickets, and another double contribution of 73 and 37 and a partnership of 150 runs with Viswanath in his final Test at Bombay.
Durrani was also one of the most charismatic cricketers to play for India. Tall, handsome with film star good looks he did in fact appear as a hero in a Hindi film of the early 70s "Charitra" opposite Parveen Babi and directed by the controversial BR Ishara. Along with other charismatic players like Pataudi, Jaisimha and Engineer he made sure that even if India lost they would go down playing bright cricket. There could never be a dull moment when Durrani - the crowd's own Prince Salim - was around. He certainly was a big hit with the spectators what with his ability to hit a six on demand as it were. Little wonder then that when he was dropped for the Kanpur Test against England in 1973 for reasons that were never really spelt out, posters appeared immediately in Bombay - the venue of the following Test - which proclaimed "No Durrani No Test". Not unexpectedly Durrani was back for final Test coming good with that double contribution.
Earlier this week the Kabul - born Durrani was finally given the CK Nayudu award rightly taking his place alongside other illustrious awardees that include the likes of Lala Amarnath, Mushtaq Ali, Vijay Hazare, Polly Umrigar, Nari Contractor, Subash Gupte and his comrade-in-arms on many occasions Borde. It is an honour that should have been bestowed on him many years ago but, as the saying goes, better late than never.