‘If you’re afraid of fast bowling,rather go find a different profession like banking’https://indianexpress.com/article/news-archive/web/if-youre-afraid-of-fast-bowling-rather-go-find-a-different-profession-like-banking/

‘If you’re afraid of fast bowling,rather go find a different profession like banking’

Farokh Engineer speaks to The Indian Express Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta about his cricketing days.

In this Walk the Talk on NDTV 24×7,former India batsman,wicketkeeper and Brylcreem boy Farokh Engineer,speaks to The Indian Express Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta about his cricketing days,when pacers were far quicker then than today and how with a bat that resembled a ‘Brooke bond chai ka dabba,’ he hammered a Test ton against the mighty West Indies in 1967 that he believes to be the quickest ever

Did you know that long before Virender Sehwag,there was one Indian opener who could score at the rate of 2 runs per ball and long before MS Dhoni,there was an Indian wicket keeper whose hairstyle and whose dashing methods became the rage all over India? And if you’re still guessing,these two were actually the same person — Farokh Engineer,my guest for today.

Shekhar,it’s always been a pleasure to be with the best journalist in India.

But really,it was a century in 46 balls,in those days…

It is supposed to be an all-time record.

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And in 1967 it was against an attack that had Wesley Hall,Charlie Griffith,Garry Sobers and Lance Gibbs.

I was 94 before lunch. And when I was at 92,I had hooked Wes Hall but Rohan Kanhai at deep square leg had dived to stop the boundary. We could easily have taken 2 runs. But Dilip Sardesai,who was my opening partner,chose to take a single… I’m not at all ostracising Dilip for that.

Well,those days nobody turned 1s into 2s,or 2 into 3.

We could easily have taken 2,but we took 1. But anyway,I got 94. Everyone was telling me at lunch time — ‘Arre,only Don Bradman and Charlie Macartney got a century before lunch on the first day’. I think,God is great. He knew that I didn’t deserve to be bracketed with those great people. The first ball after lunch,an off-spinner comes,by the name of Lance Gibbs. And I just thought,it’s either him or me. The ball cleared the whole of the Chepauk,went well over all the stands. And it’s still travelling. They never found it.

In those days the West Indian crowd would say ‘Ashes to ashes,dust to dust,if Gibbs can’t get you,Sobers must’. And that is after Hall and Griffith were done with you.

These guys were seriously quick.

And they were violent.

Charlie Griffith and Roy Gilchrist clearly said that we like to see blood on batsmen’s faces. We never had any helmets or chest guards. Just a pink plastic box which was hardly any sort of protection. Because if it hits the plastic box,the box breaks and the rest of you is in serious trouble as well.

And then you had to face these guys on wickets that were not covered…

Uncovered pitches. Absolutely. Where the ball could just rear. And they bowled at well over 100 miles per hour.

So would you say that they were faster than the fast bowlers today?

Oh yeah. Much. But this is what the modern generation doesn’t realize. They think — oh he’s clocked 84 miles an hour,85 miles an hour,90 miles an hour! He must be really fast. Those guys were well over 100. And there was no limit of bouncers. And we didn’t have anyone to give it back to them.

Like one of your wicketkeeping rivals – Budhi Kunderan. He actually also opened the attack for India in a match where you kept the wickets.

And I think we both got a 100 in the partnership in about 20 balls or something.

Both of you were hitting everything. You were the only two Indians who hooked the fast ball.

I took it right to the sides and hooked it. In fact,I thrived on that. I hated slow outswingers. Those guys got me out easily. But the quicker they came,the quicker they went. And I loved opening the innings because of the big gaps in the field. All the fielders were behind.

So was there a fear of fast bowling without helmets?

No. If you’re afraid of facing fast bowling,then you’re in the wrong profession. Better go and work at a bank or something. You never even thought of getting hit. Especially in West Indies when Nari Contractor was hit,and I was there,and I saw blood trickling out of his ears.

What happened exactly? Describe that scene to us.

Well,Charlie Griffith was a thrower. When he’d throw a bouncer,it would just skip. Both him and Roy Gilchrist took a long run-up but had no follow-through at all. That itself proves that they threw. Wes Hall said it blatantly. ‘You keep on chuckin’,man,’ he said,‘you keep on chuckin’.

Were you ever scared?

No,no. Because if I was scared,I shouldn’t be playing. You’re worried,you’re concerned…Yes,there were cricketers who were scared. I can’t name them because one of them actually dirtied his trousers.

But I have childhood memories of Indian batsmen sort of backing away.

Oh yes. There’s a lovely story about the combined Universities team at Nagpur who played the West Indian team who had just finished the Indian team in three days. I was barely 17 when I was thrown to the lions there. The mayor of Nagpur in his wisdom,said,‘Tomorrow the West Indians are going to face a better team than the Indian team.’ We were 29 all out. I think I scored about 20 or so. And our number 11 batsman — facing Roy Gilchrist — had already seen six batsmen coming out in stretchers with collar bones and wrists broken. He wasn’t keen on going out at all. When Gilchrist comes in to bowl,he starts sliding out toward the square leg umpire,leaving all three stumps open,‘Chalo jaan chhoot jaaye,le lo wicket le lo bhai…I’ll go home in one piece to my family’. Gilchrist being equally mad,saw him out of the corner of his eye. He saw he was near the square leg umpire and bounced him there. He put his bat up and the ball went over him. Of course the umpire’s shouting,‘Wide ball,wide ball’. And he has to bowl another ball. So everyone was ready to face the next ball,except our number 11. He was last seen scampering up the pavilion steps. ‘Nahin sab theek hai,’ he said,‘That was a perfectly valid delivery’.

So if you were to take something from the game today,you will take some protective gear for the batsmen?

Yes,it is a good addition. But I would have never been able to keep wickets with the cage.

Also,one thing you would like to take maybe is today’s bats?

Oh,my word. These bats are so well made. Hamara toh Brooke Bond chai ka dabba tha. There was no middle at all. You had to really really oil it and all that. Woh zamana tha. Showing my age now,huh?

But modern bats are good?

These bats are phenomenal. We had a small sweet spot,and you had to hit it only on that spot to hit it out of the ground for a six. Anything here and there and it was a catch. I’m not taking any credit away from modern batsmen,but the equipment in all sports — golf clubs,tennis racquets — are built better. The whole idea is they’ve got a bigger sweet spot. Even if you miss it,it’ll still go for a four or a six.

And before I come to wicketkeeping. You became famous with your sideburns. You were a great Brylcreem model.

Brylcreem was my saviour.

Keith Miller,Denis Compton and you.

Yes,we were. And it went all over the world.

People may not know what Brylcreem is any more?

Brylcreem was the thing. Like if you were approached by Brylcreem,you’d made it in life. Then you were a good-looking swine or whatever. And Brylcreem actually paid me £ 500 more if I batted without a cap. And I used to bat without my cap in any case. So I thought — haan yaar,aur kya hai? I’m going to take my shirt off also.

IPL would have loved the team you played in,in the late ‘60s,early ‘70s. You,Pataudi,Jaisimha,Durrani,Baig. You were a team of good-looking dudes.

Some of the girls did think so.

And when you played I believe at CCI,at Brabourne Stadium,film actresses would line up.

Oh yeah,that was a regular thing. We used to be invited to Mukesh,Mohammed Rafi,Kishore Kumar,all their homes,and they used to take out a harmonium and sing to us. Hum bole,arre gaana band karo,ab bhookh lagi hai,khana nikalo. But how lucky we were!

Did you sing some?

Of course. But these were the times when actors,actresses — they were all in a player’s box. You know,sab kuch chalta tha. There was no room for players sometimes. But players enjoyed mingling with them. Because in the evenings,we used to be invited to the actors,actresses’ homes,so we got to know them all very well indeed. How well,I won’t tell you. My wife’s listening,I’ll get in trouble.

But they were real characters.

Characters,yes.

Until mid and late ‘60s,Indian cricketers were very defensive. Defeat was sort of presumed,if you’re playing overseas. And then something changed in the late ‘60s. Maybe it changed with the rise of Pataudi,who liked to fight fire with fire. With your arrival. I was privileged to be introduced to you at the age of 12. In the 1969 Test against Australia which we won. That is the match where the quartet came into its own.

And what a great quartet.

But you were the first to turn Indian crowds into a force multiplier. Some English commentators got very irritated. And they said,‘Engineer goes up in appeal,and 70,000 Indians go up in appeal’

No,no. Hundred thousand. And there was no television. But there were so many bat-on-pad catches,so many things that were not given. There was no third umpire,so you had to appeal when in doubt.

In fact,you were described as somebody who led this orchestra of one lakh people.

That was much to the annoyance of English cricketers. Because they got away with murder. In England,they used to…

Sledge?

That annoyed me — Australians and all these guys used to call us ‘bloody Indians’. And that hurt because I’m fiercely proud of being an Indian. And abhi IPL ke sab paise hai,they all come here to earn money.

So take us back. Tell us something about the close-in cordon — how that changed India’s cricket. 

Well when you have spin bowlers on those pitches,where the ball is turning,spin bowlers of that quality – Bishen Singh Bedi,EAS Prasanna,but my heartthrob was Chandra.

Could you read him?

Yes.

If you did,you were the only one in the world who could.

Yes. I saw him grip the ball. I saw the way it left his fingers in the air and off the pitch. It was like a split-second computerised effect. I could pick him up in my sleep,really. But Chandra himself didn’t know sometimes which way the ball was going. Because he’s delivering the ball. Whereas I’m seeing it. Chandra,I think,was the greatest spin bowler of all time. He turned his polio defect into an asset. And to keep wickets to him on the fifth day of a Test,to a left-hander… someone like Clive Lloyd or Garry Sobers batting…where the ball pitches in the rough and just flies in all sorts of directions — I thought that was wicketkeeping at its best.

And then 1971. You came out to open with a very young Indian named Sunil Gavaskar.

He is one of my dearest buddies now. We call each other dikra. ‘Dikra’ in Parsi is darling,you know,like brother. And Sunny and I have had some great moments. We’ve had the highest mutual respect for each other.

But there couldn’t two more different batsmen going out to open for India.

We complemented each other. Before we won at the Oval,we were winning the match at Lords. And John Snow got frustrated. I pushed a ball in the covers and were going for a quick single. But Snow,instead of going for the ball,went for Gavaskar and shoulder-charged him. I had to go up to Snow and tell him,‘Why don’t you catch someone your own size?’

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And then we won at the Oval thanks to you also. I know the spinners got the wickets,but you stood there. We nearly messed it up.

That was funny. I think Vishy was out and Abid was the new batsman. And afterwards,Bishen and Chandra were left. So when Abid came in,we had about five runs to win. So I said,‘only got so much to win. Take it easy. Don’t do anything stupid’. First ball. I think Derek Underwood or somebody,he charges down the wicket and tries to hit a boundary — and Alan Knott missed a fairly easy stumping. And we got a couple of byes and that was the end of the over. It was my turn to bat and we still needed 4 or 5 runs to win. I thought — should I try and hit a four here? No,I can rely on Abid. So I just took a single on the first ball. Again I tell Abid,‘don’t do anything silly. Just take singles. It’s mid-afternoon. Not a cloud in the sky. So there’s plenty of time. Do not throw your wicket away,because after you,it’s Bedi and Chandrasekhar. And Chandra,with due respect,doesn’t know which side of the bat to hold. What does he do? He charges down the wicket,gets a top edge,over the slips for four runs. Next thing I see he’s being carried away by all the supporters. I thought I’ve been here on the pitch for about two and a half hours,trying to win the game for India. But he hit the winning stroke and you know,lovely to see Abid being carried away. There was even a little elephant on the ground. I don’t know who brought it there.

So you saw Vishwanath make his debut with you in ‘69 against Australia. But you missed Sunny’s debut in the West Indies.

In fact,I was the captain. I was appointed captain for the tour. But suddenly I was struck off for insubordination because I suggested flying from Bombay to Calcutta. All the foreign teams used to. And the air conditioned train was actually Rs 5 more expensive than the plane fare. So I said why don’t we fly? We could get a couple of days’ practice in Calcutta,not to mention the ladies of Calcutta,of course.

You are incorrigible.

I mean,ask Sachin or someone to go by train from Bombay to Calcutta for their Test match. It’s ridiculous. People from villages from miles away used to come and knock on our doors at two and three in the morning. They had never seen cricketers before. So we used to sit down. make them stand in a queue and sign for all of them. Sometimes for about half an hour while the train stopped there.

I can’t let you go away without reminding you of your college. Podar. How come it produced so many great cricketers? Shastri,Sanjay Manjrekar,you,Vengsarkar.

Well you know how I joined Podar?I had a professor called Professor Chandgarkar in my SSC and I had just appeared for my exams. And he approached me and said,‘How have you fared in your SSC exam?’ I said,‘All right,why?’ He said,‘If you give me your exam number,I’ll make sure you pass,if you join Podar College. Told all my friends,‘I’ve passed,I don’t know about you guys.’ Then I passed on my own with 58 per cent or something. But I’d given him my word,so I joined Podar.

And what about your fellow Bawas? They’ve given up on cricket. We’ve lost all the Parsis in the game.

Yes I was the last Test cricketer for Parsis. It’s just a sad state of affairs. You see the Parsi team,none of the Parsis are playing in the Parsi Cyclist team or…

You played for Parsi Cyclists. You guys were known for your sledging each other more than the rivals. You remember some stories of how the genteel Parsis sledge each other?

You know what,I can’t repeat it on TV. But without the slightest meaning. It was just done in good humour. Parsis are full of fun. You know,we love to enjoy life. And I think it showed in our team. We enjoyed our cricket immensely.

So if this was the Indian team that scripted the great cricket turnaround,Farokh,I can see what made it possible. It was the spirit and the joy that people like you had in the game.

With no money in the game.

Except a few hundred pounds from Brylcreem. That’s much before Kapil Dev did Palmolive.

Brylcreem was international. Palmolive was very local. When you’re a Brylcreem model,it was like appearing on the Vogue magazine cover,it went all over the world. So it was quite a thing to be a Brylcreem endorsee.

For so many decades,Farokh,Indian cricket did not have a greater international citizen to endorse it than you. So once again,what a privilege to have this conversation.

Absolute pleasure.

Transcribed by Joyeeta Biswas.

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For the full interview,log on to www.indianexpress.com