The heroics of Farokh Engineer

Rafiqul Ameer Roar Pro

By Rafiqul Ameer, Rafiqul Ameer is a Roar Pro

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    The much-anticipated Bengaluru Test to mark Afghanistan’s entry into the Test arena ended with the expected victory for the Indians.

    The major highlight of the two-day event was the century before lunch on the opening day by dashing opener Shikhar Dhawan. He is the first Indian to achieve such a feat and he deserves rich plaudits even after considering the inexperience of the opposition attack.

    While no Indian had ever achieved this feat before, on a January morning some four decades ago a wicketkeeper cum makeshift opening bat from Bombay came desperately close to scoring a morning ton against a strong West Indies attack. Farokh Engineer completed his first Test hundred after lunch, scoring 109 before being dismissed by Sobers. Eighteen well-hit boundaries were the highlights of his innings.

    Of his total, 94 of his runs came before lunch against Wes Hall, Charlie Griffith, Garfield Sobers and Lance Gibbs. If we consider the strength of the West Indies attack at the time, his effort seems a completely different ball game to Dhawan’s effort.

    It looks even more impressive if we consider the circumstances: Farokh was making a comeback in the team; approaching 30, he was not secured of his place in the team; before this match he had little experience of opening in Test matches; there were no helmets to protect yourself against the bouncers; and, finally, the morale of Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi’s men were extremely low going into this Test, having already lost the three-match series.

    Actually Farokh was a surprise pick for this match. Budhi Kundaran, India’s wicketkeeper for the first two Tests, didn’t do anything wrong in the two matches – in fact twice he was India’s top scorer in an innings, once while batting at number nine. He certainly wasn’t responsible for India’s bad defeats. Just prior to the Madras Test he even scored a fine hundred against the West Indies playing for the South Zone side.

    His exclusion is still shrouded in mystery. The official version was that he was unavailable due to injury, but all the other sources give different explanations. Among all the different conspiracy theories is one that seems most logical, which is that he became a victim of the ‘quota system’ that still exists in Indian cricket.

    EAS Prasanna, after taking eight wickets in West Indies first innings for the South Zone side, was set for a recall into the Indian team, and with Bhagwat Subramanya Chandrasekhar and Venkataraman Subramanya from Mysore also in the team, their maximum quota was filled. A fourth player from Mysore – now Karnataka – a minor state in terms of cricketing power at the time, would have been too much.

    Having said that, I must add that there were couple of Test matches during the England tour in the summer of 1967 when the above mentioned four players from Mysore did play together.

    Coming back to Farokh, whoever selected him for this match and then decided to open with him must have known something no-one else did. His runs not only gave the Indian batting some stability; more importantly they gave a big morale boost to a batting line-up, which had failed to reach the 200 mark in either of their innings at Calcutta.

    In fact the whole team seemed resurrected, and Bedi, Prasanna and Chandra, playing together for the first time, very nearly took India to a famous victory until Sobers, accompanied by an obdurate Griffith, saved the match for the tourists.

    After this effort, Farokh became a more regular feature in the Indian team, although his commitment with Lancashire as a professional meant that he missed odd tours. Due to the unstable nature of the Indian batting line-up at the time he switched between the opening slot and middle order for many years. But it was as an opener that he scored his second and final Test hundred.

    This was another famous occasion. It was the 1972-73 season and the venue of the match was the famous Brabourne stadium in Bombay. The Bombay crowd came in numbers to watch local hero Sunil Gavaskar play his first Test in his own city, and Gavaskar didn’t disappoint them, scoring a classy half-century in the second innings in the match against England. But overall he was overshadowed by his senior opening partner, who scored 121 and 66 in the match.

    The opening pair put on a 135-run partnership in the second innings. In fact, given time, the Gavaskar-Engineer combination could have developed into a consistent opening partnership, the solid defence of Sunil a perfect foil to the more aggressive batting of his partner. But Engineer was coming towards the end of his career, and it had a sad end: when he bagged a pair in his final Test, in January 1975 against the West Indies, again at Bombay, but at the new venue of Wankhede.

    As for Kundaran, he played two Tests in England in 1967, but the Indian management continued to experiment with him. Then viewed as the second wicketkeeper in the team and a capable batsman, he batted in the middle order in the first innings at Lord’s but opened the batting otherwise.

    More interestingly, he shared the new ball with his state captain Subramanya in England’s first innings in the third Test as India played four spinners together.

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    The Crowd Says (12)

    • June 19th 2018 @ 10:00am
      Paul said | June 19th 2018 @ 10:00am | ! Report

      It’s 50 years or more since that innings you refer to. I saw Engineer when he played for the Rest of the World in Australia. An truly outstanding cricketer, not often remembered. Thanks for the article.

    • Roar Pro

      June 19th 2018 @ 12:27pm
      Rafiqul Ameer said | June 19th 2018 @ 12:27pm | ! Report

      Yes. it’s five decades not four decades. Time does fly very quickly.

    • Roar Pro

      June 19th 2018 @ 12:36pm
      Rafiqul Ameer said | June 19th 2018 @ 12:36pm | ! Report

      To state exactly, it was Madras , January 1967 where Farokh scored his 1st test ton. Should have stated it clearly in the main article.

    • June 19th 2018 @ 1:39pm
      Pope Paul VII said | June 19th 2018 @ 1:39pm | ! Report

      Thanks Rafi, I love past innings recalled.

      I also love his name. Along with the likes of Merchant and Contractor..

      I wonder are they still prevalent in some parts of Indian society given the passage of time since the British Raj?

      • Roar Pro

        June 19th 2018 @ 2:39pm
        Rafiqul Ameer said | June 19th 2018 @ 2:39pm | ! Report

        I may be wrong but as far as I now it is a Persi custom to use surnames related to profession. The Persi’s were the 1st people in India to play cricket. Some Hindu surnames are also derived from different professions.

        however, i must reiterate i am no expert in this field. and would welcome comments from more Knowledgeable sources.

        • June 19th 2018 @ 3:16pm
          Pope Paul VII said | June 19th 2018 @ 3:16pm | ! Report

          Thanks Raf

        • Roar Pro

          June 26th 2018 @ 1:45pm
          Rafiqul Ameer said | June 26th 2018 @ 1:45pm | ! Report

          Well I have checked some reliable sources and Merchant certainly wasn’t a Parsi. so, my previous theory is not correct.

          It is also worth mentioning that his real name was Viijay Madhavji Thakersey.

      • Roar Pro

        June 19th 2018 @ 2:46pm
        Rafiqul Ameer said | June 19th 2018 @ 2:46pm | ! Report

        yes, they are easy names to pronounce and remember. Most commentators and cricket writers would prefer these over Kapila Indaka Weerakkody Wijegunawardene. the SL medium pacer who played in the 1988 Asia cup. (I copied his name to ensure no spelling mistake).

        • June 19th 2018 @ 3:18pm
          Pope Paul VII said | June 19th 2018 @ 3:18pm | ! Report

          The Sri’s certainly give it everything in the naming stakes.

      • Roar Pro

        June 19th 2018 @ 3:06pm
        Rafiqul Ameer said | June 19th 2018 @ 3:06pm | ! Report

        Speaking of past innings; I always rate Kim Hughes’ boxing day hundred against the windies very highly. i saw highlights of that innings on YouTube last year, and was enthralled. would love to see someone who was present at MCG then to write about this.

        • June 20th 2018 @ 8:21am
          Paul said | June 20th 2018 @ 8:21am | ! Report

          In this day and age, they probably wouldn’t have played that Test, the pitch was so bad. The ball came through at different heights and it was physically dangerous for batsmen, especially if you were facing the Windies quicks. Hughes was simply brilliant and in a class of his own that day, which makes on wonder what he could have achieved if he had batted as well during the rest of his career.

    • Roar Pro

      June 19th 2018 @ 6:37pm
      Rafiqul Ameer said | June 19th 2018 @ 6:37pm | ! Report

      some additional information regarding Farokh. although he never officially captained India, he led India on the field for a period in the Calcutta test during the 1972-73 series against England. Wadekar was off the field, and in those days no vice captains were selected for home tests. I am not sure whether that trend still remains.

      One commentator described Farokh’s captaincy as ‘combined captaincy’ as he regularly sought advice from the other senior members of the team in the field.

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