The city of Jamnagar, historically known as Nawanagar, was founded by Jam Rawal in 1540. But the modern look of the city was given by Jam Saheb Shri Ranjitsinhji around the 1920s.
Along with the modern look, Ranjitsinhji can also be credited with popularizing the game of cricket in Jamnagar. And the city today boasts of rich cricketing history. Apart from Ranjitsinhji (who played test cricket for England), the city has produced several other test cricketers; ranging from Vinoo Mankad to Ajay Jadeja to Ravindra Jadeja in recent times.
In addition to the above cricketers, an Afghan born Indian cricketer who perfectly bridged the gap between traditional and aggressive batting in test cricket made Jamnagar his home. His father, Aziz Durrani, went to Pakistan before partition, but the tall and handsome Salim Aziz Durrani stayed back in India with his mother.
The name Salim Durrani is enough to locate the house
And he earned quite a lot of name and fame with his performances both on & off the cricket field.
Even today, it is not difficult to identify his home despite the absence of any house number or building name. As I reach the area, the name ‘Salim Durani’ is enough to direct me to the right house. A frail looking Salim Durani wearing a full-shirt and pant comes out of the two-storeyed house to welcome me. He may look frail, but there is no shortage of warmth or courteousness even at this age.
As I enter the house, he tells me that we will sit upstairs. He slowly climbs the stairs behind me and we reach the sitting area of his house.
The room is full of numerous trophies that he has won over the years. He then introduces me to his two sisters who live in the same house. One of his sisters gets water for me while he proudly tells me about his other sister who is lying on the divan. He says, “Baba, as I call her, was an athlete in her younger days. She was a teacher who has a record of taking no leaves in her entire career. She was one of the first in Jamnagar to teach English”.
“I was also inspired a lot by Vinoo bhai”
Slowly, the topic shifts to cricket and he tells me that his father was a very good wicket-keeper who played a couple of unofficial tests for undivided India.
His father is also credited with coaching the great Pakistani batsman Hanif Mohammad. So I assume that the choice to play cricket at a professional level would have been natural for Salim.
Commenting on this he says, “Yes, father being a cricketer did help. I was also inspired a lot by Vinoo bhai (Mankad). Vinoo bhai as per me was one of the best all-rounders produced by India.“
He then lights up a Four Square cigarette and nonchalantly says, “Kapil (Dev) was also very good. His contribution to win the 1983 World Cup did wonders for Indian cricket. Both Kapil and Vinoo bhai were great in their respective eras. Mohinder Amarnath was also very good”. What he did not tell me was that he himself was a very good all-rounder. We all know about his batting and bowling talent, but not many would know that he had also kept wickets in first-class cricket.
“Oh yes, I loved hitting sixes”
My attention then moves towards a big trophy which has a six written on it. He tells me, “Oh yes, I loved hitting sixes”.
Old-timers will recall that in the 1960s and 1970s, Durani was famous for hitting sixes on demand. Whenever the crowd asked him for sixes, more often than not he used to oblige them with few hits over the fence.
In that sense, he was different from the players of his generation who generally preferred to play shots on the ground. Because of his liking for an aggressive style of batting, he says that he rarely misses a single ball of an ODI or a T20 match featuring India. I wonder how destructive he would have been in T20s.
Even today, though he is 80 years old; he hits sixes with his enchanting talks. So, when I ask him who his favourite cricketer is, he hits a six by his humorous response - “Salim Durrani”. We burst into laughter with his reply. Then he says, “On a serious note, I liked many cricketers. And India has produced quite a many great cricketers. I don’t believe in comparing cricketers of different eras. But Vinoo bhai was special for me. It maybe because of the fact that I grew up watching him play in Jamnagar”. He goes on to tell me that I should go to the Cricket Bungalow and see Vinoo bhai’s statue over there.
We then go over to the dining area of the house where one wall is dedicated to his photos. With great enthusiasm, he tells me in detail about each of the photos. There is a shine in his eyes as he talks about his photo with the Duleep Trophy in 1970. Apparently, owing to his great run in the Duleep Trophy that year, one of the journalist had labelled it as Durani Trophy. He laughs recalling the name - ‘Durani Trophy’.
We go back to the sitting room as his sister gets tea & snacks for us. She tells me specially to have the besan laddoo as it is prepared at home. As I have the snacks, I ask him about his views on the current Indian team. He says that team is very good and is ably led by Virat Kohli. So, I ask him about Kohli’s aggression and he replies, “Aggressive hai thoda, par cricket mien chalta hai. Bahut consistent hai” (He is a bit aggressive, but these things are fine for cricket. He is very consistent).
Coming back to Durrani, it is worthwhile to mention that he was the first cricketer to be awarded the Arjuna award. He was also awarded by the BCCI with the CK Nayudu Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011. Acknowledging this he says, “It was an honour and the BCCI also gave a good cash reward with this”.
Today, he lives a quiet life
The man whose ouster from the team had once led to banners with lines like “No Durani, no Test” today lives a quiet life in Jamnagar. Although he sometimes visits the Summair Sports Club, his health doesn’t permit much movement these days.
With folded hands, I greet goodbye to him and he wishes me good luck. He asks his nephew to drop me to the Cricket Bungalow. As I end my meeting, I cannot help but be amazed at the simplicity of the man who was once a heartthrob for Indian cricket fans. Probably the secret behind his elegance was his simplicity. As they say, “Simplicity is the keynote of all true elegance”.