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The heroics of Farokh Engineer

18th June, 2018
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Generic photo of cricket helmet, gloves and bats, during the Australian team's training session at the MCG in Melbourne, Wednesday, Dec. 24, 2008. Australia will play South Africa in the Boxing Day test at the MCG, starting on Friday.
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18th June, 2018
12

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.

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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.

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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.