The adventurous hitting by England’s skipper and batter Ben Stokes (155 runs with 9 fours and 9 sixes in the just concluded Ashes Test at Lord’s) reminded me of the audacious batting by India’s batter and wicket-keeper Farokh Engineer some time ago. Engineer was a baz-batter (aggressive batting baseball style) – way before the term was invented – who thrilled crowds wherever he played.
The 1938-born played 46 Tests for India from 1961 to 1975, scoring 2,611 runs (average 31.08), hitting two centuries (highest score 121) and 16 fifties, taking 66 catches and stumping 16. His innings were rich in spectacular shots. There was never a dull moment when he was on the field.
Early connections with Farokh Engineer
I have two favourite memories of Engineer, daredevil batsman and friendly person.
I recall January 13, 1967 with nostalgia. My fiancée (now wife) Villie and I had taken a day off work to go wedding-ring shopping. My focus however was more on the IndvWI Test being played at Madras, especially as Engineer was approaching his century.
There were no mobile phones those days, so I kept asking for the score at every jewellery shop. To my ecstasy Engineer scored 109 enthralling runs. He nearly became the first Indian to score a century before lunch but missed by six runs.
An earlier memory – from 65 years ago – is even more poignant. I remember it as if it was last month. My cousin Fili and I were headed home after taking in a movie show at Bombay’s Metro cinema. We stopped to watch cricket matches being played at Azad Maidan. A handsome cricketer wearing pads and gloves called out to the spectators: “One short, one short.”
We asked, “One short for what?”
“We’re one fielder short,” he replied. “Would one of you like to field?”
Although not good cricketers, both of us enjoyed playing the game. The problem was that I was wearing white pants with a coloured shirt and Fili was clad in brown pants and white shirt. Fili unselfishly insisted that I play, exchanging his white shirt for my printed one, and volunteered to inform my parents that I would be home late.
Although I did not shine, I did not disgrace myself either, stopping some balls heading for the boundary and scoring two runs not out. What impressed me was the acrobatic wicket-keeping of the man who had approached us calling out “One short.” When his turn came to bat he was fantastic, hitting fours and lofting sixes. When I asked him his name later, he replied, “Engineer. Farokh Engineer.”
The name meant nothing then of course. Farokh made his first-class debut for Bombay the following year, 1959, going on to becoming a legend. A personal satisfaction for me was to have played with a legend before he became a household name!
Farokh Engineer in Australia
When Engineer was selected for the World XI to tour Australia in 1971-72, I had the pleasure of inviting him, Sunil Gavaskar and Bishan Bedi (and Subroto Banerjee who was then playing Sheffield Shield) to our home in Sydney. He laughed when I related the “One short, one short” story of 1958, and how his century in the 1967 Chennai Test had delayed the selection of our wedding rings!
His aggressive batting and acrobatic wicket-keeping impressed the Australian commentators and spectators on that World XI tour. He was at his best against a Combined XI at Hobart in December 1971 when he hit an aggressive 192 runs, adding 260 runs with Pakistan’s great batsman Zaheer Abbas.
The Sydney unofficial Test match in January 1972 was memorable for me – Engineer, Gavaskar and Bedi invited me to sit in the players’ dressing room. What an honour, to sit next to the great Sir Gary Sobers and other cricket immortals!
I must have brought Engineer good luck – he scored 36 runs in a crisis, adding 66 runs for the seventh wicket with the tall Tony Greig after the World XI was in trouble, losing six wickets for 68 runs.
Engineer (left) going out to bat with the tall Test cricketer Tony Greig for World XI against Australia at the Sydney Cricket Ground in 1972.
Engineer also played first-class cricket for Lancashire from 1968 to 1976, entertaining spectators with his debonair batting and acrobatic wicket-keeping.
Farokh Engineer: Debonair and witty
When the false news of his death circulated in 2016, he responded in Mid-Day (India), “A friend called, and when he heard my voice he asked whether it was really me. I responded jokingly, ‘No, it’s my ghost you are listening to!’ Friends, I am alive and kicking. I am very well and let me tell you I don’t even need Viagra at my age!”
A few years ago Villie and I had the pleasure of meeting and sharing steak with the baz-batter and baz-glover Engineer at a Sydney restaurant. He was his same old friendly self, although a few kilos heavier.
He surprised us by saying that when young he had wanted to be a pilot.
He laughed when I quipped, “What, to catch your own sixes?!”