Salim Durani played just 29 Tests, took 75 wickets, and scored 1,202 runs. But Durani was never about numbers. He was Indian cricket’s ultimate entertainer, someone who always played for the galleries.
He died on Sunday morning at his Jamnagar home at the age of 88 due to age-related ailments. He was bedridden for three months after a fall at home and, on Saturday night, his blood pressure had dropped. He had been living with his younger brother, Jahangir.
Durani was a flamboyant all-rounder with movie star looks, known for hitting sixes on demand, a temperamental spinner who, on his day, could remove the best batsman — the story of him telling Ajit Wadekar to give him the ball and proceeding to knock out Garry Sobers is often spoken about.
Easily one of the most colourful cricketers of India – Salim Durani.
Rest in Peace. ॐ शांति 🙏 pic.twitter.com/d5RUST5G9n
— Ravi Shastri (@RaviShastriOfc) April 2, 2023
He was an enigmatic cricketer, with almost everything about him being mythical — like about his place of birth. In some interviews, he said he left Kabul and moved to Karachi when he was eight months old; in others, he said he had never been to Kabul.
His colourful personality allowed him to be at ease with maharajas, movie stars as well as the common man. His love for alcohol, Gold Flake cigarettes, and even his financial crisis, just added to his image of a carefree character who lived his life to fullest.
Those who knew him well would often say, “Salimbhai mast rehte hain hamesha”. On Sunday, his “mast life” ended.
India’s first Arjuna Award winning cricketer and a man who hit sixes on public demand, Salim Durani.
Om Shanti. Heartfelt Condolences to his family , friends and loved ones. pic.twitter.com/DwdKamlxjy
— VVS Laxman (@VVSLaxman281) April 2, 2023
He belonged to the era of handsome cricketers; the debonair M L Jaisimha, who would stylishly wrap a scarf around his neck; the royal Tiger Pataudi, regal in all aspects; the charming Faroukh Engineer, flamboyance on and off the field; the dashing Budhi Kunderan, who married an English woman and settled in Scotland; the handsome Abbas Ali Baig, who had women fans jump over the fence to land a kiss; and of course Durani.
It’s best to start with his sixes-on-demand as that kickstarted the public craze about him. Its origins probably lie in the 1965-66 Ranji Trophy final in Jaipur when he hooked Ramakant Desai for a six after the crowd asked for the maximum.
“Miracles like that followed in succession. In Test matches, my first sixer on demand was in Calcutta in 1972-73 against England. There was a loud roar in the east stand: Salimda! We want a sixer! The bowler was none other than Derek Underwood in top form,” he once said in an interview.
With #Salimdurani sir 👊🏽 pic.twitter.com/vCmGcIZpPh
— Vijender Singh (@boxervijender) October 18, 2020
It’s said that he was a mercurial left-arm spinner and could wreak havoc. In his book, Gundappa Vishwanath wrote about the origin of the famous story of how Durani knocked out Garry Sobers.
During the 1971 tour of West Indies, Vishwanath was having a drink in captain Ajit Wadekar’s room at the end of the third day’s play when Durani walked in. “He straightaway asked Ajit if he could have a drink; he loved his drink or two in the evenings and it was standard practice in the West Indies for all of us to assemble in Ajit’s room and unwind. Just then he said, ‘I will get you Lloyd and Sobers tomorrow in two overs’. All of us were surprised and looked at him as he continued, ‘Just give me the ball when Lloyd is on strike and even if someone else picks up the non-striker at that point, don’t bother continuing with him and throw me the ball against Sobers’,” Vishwanath recalled.
The next day, he walked the talk, getting Clive Lloyd caught by Wadekar for 15 and bowling Sobers with a ripper from the rough outside off stump for a duck.
You have not seen that sportsperson, but you develop a great sense of admiration and wish you were lucky to see that sportsperson in action. Very rarely you become a fan boy of someone just by hearing about him/her. That is what #SalimDurani did to you. #RIP Salim Bhai.
— W V Raman (@wvraman) April 2, 2023
He became life-long friends with the likes of Sobers and Rohan Kanhai. He was well-known in Pakistan too, particularly because of his father Aziz Durani, who went back to Karachi after Partition.
Former Pakistan captain and the manager of the 1992 World Cup team Intikhab Alam was saddened to hear of his demise. “I knew his father, Master Aziz, very well; in fact Master was very close to my uncle who was DIG, Police, in Karachi in the 50s, and was instrumental in getting Master Abdul Aziz married. After his marriage, he went to India, but he came back after Partition. He was a passionate coach, who taught the great batsman Hanif Mohammad, among others,” he said.
“The story also goes that Master Aziz wanted his son Salim to be a left-arm spinner and left-arm batsman. But young Salim was equally ambidextrous as a bowler. So, Master Aziz developed the drill where Salim’s right hand would be tied behind his back and he would bowl, so that the left-arm spin became more ‘natural’. So, not only was Salim your big-hitting all-rounder, but he also could bowl with both hands. Way ahead of his time… When I came to India for my first tour in 1960-61, I met Salim in Bombay and we shared memories of his father,” Intikhab told The Indian Express.
My condolences to Salim Durani’s family and loved ones during this difficult time. One of the very few who played for India from Saurashtra in that era, he will always be remembered for his contributions to the sport and his legacy will live on forever.
— Cheteshwar Pujara (@cheteshwar1) April 2, 2023
Durani also starred in Hindi films, acting opposite Parveen Babi in ‘Charitra’, where, in one of dialogues, he said: “Zindagi ki sabse bada tragedy yahi hai ki log devta ko pehchaante hai, shaitaan ko pehchaante hain, lekin insaan ko nahi (Life’s biggest tragedy is that people recognise and value gods, demons, but not humans).”
Fortunately, in his life, he was loved by all, his fans, peers, the next generation of cricketers, across the world – in India, in the Caribbean, and Pakistan.