Farokh Engineer May 15, 2010

First and dearest

Michael Henderson
A Parsee from Bombay who captured the imagination of an eight-year-old in Lancashire

I first went to Old Trafford in 1967, the so-called Summer of Love. Lancashire were anything but a groovy side at the time - though the players looked pretty smart to my eight-year-old eyes - and it wasn't until Jack Bond took over captaincy in 1968 that their cricket began to improve. That was Farokh Engineer's first year at the club, and it didn't take him long to become my hero.

Engineer caught my attention that summer when he kept wicket for India on their tour. There was something exotic about the way he walked to the crease - it was a proper mincing walk - and his flourishes behind the stumps were also eye-catching. He was a show-off. And although he frequently got out when he appeared to be well set, there was something appealing about his batting, too. There was a hint of danger and, one should remember, in 1967, when Geoff Boycott was dropped by England for slow scoring after he made a double-century at Leeds, there was some pretty dull cricket.

With the walk, his engaging manner (a smile was never far away), that wide stance, and his eagerness to charge the bowlers, even the quick ones, it wasn't difficult to warm to Engineer. He radiated an enthusiasm for cricket that one didn't sense in the personalities of, say Ken Snellgrove and John Sullivan, admirable pros though they were. He was also Indian, a Parsee from Bombay, and that in itself was exotic. To this day I have always had a soft spot for Indian cricketers. Most of them, anyway.

Yet Engineer usually disappointed me. Whenever I saw him bat, the delight of anticipation soon turned to dust. Very often I wanted to go home when he was out, for the day had lost it bloom. As John Arlott noted, he had strokes that many heavier run-makers envied, but the long innings was beyond him. At prep school I picked up the papers every summer's day to see how he had got on, and read with joy his maiden century for Lancashire, against Glamorgan. But the joy was compounded by another feeling - disappointment that I had not been there to see it.

Even when Clive Lloyd joined Lancashire in 1969 - and what feats he performed! - Engineer remained my favourite. Lancashire won the Sunday League that year, and again in 1970, when they also beat Sussex in the first of three successive Gillette Cup triumphs. Those really were the glory days. However much one-day cricket has changed in the last three decades, nothing and nobody will erase my memories of that Lancashire side, and Engineer's part in it.

But the finest moment came not in one of those highly charged one-day games but in a championship match at Buxton in July 1971. Lancashire lost five early wickets to Derbyshire, and Alan Ward was bowling very fast, but Engineer kept pulling him into the bushes at midwicket. He reached the century I had longed to see him make, and had made 141 when he was finally out. That, at least as much as the famous Gillette Cup semi-final against Gloucestershire later that month, is the abiding memory of 1971.

In fact my bias towards Engineer went beyond the bounds of blood. He had been dropped from the Rest of the World side that played England in five unofficial Tests in 1970, so when he was at the crease at The Oval the following summer, knocking off the runs to help India win their first series in this country, I was almost as pleased as the Indians who led an elephant onto the field to celebrate.

There was something exotic about the way he walked to the crease - it was a proper mincing walk - and his flourishes behind the stumps were also eye-catching. He was a show-off

I can see now that he wasn't the best wicketkeeper in the world, as we liked to think at Old Trafford. Alan Knott was; and Bob Taylor was magnificent. Nor was Engineer an outstanding batsman, though he was capable of the occasional bracing innings. Nor was he always a model of rectitude. He caught Mike Procter "on the bounce" in that famous Gillette semi, and was guilty of sharp practice on other occasions. At the time, though, any criticism of him was misplaced, for, in my eyes, he could do no wrong.

The end came quickly. At the conclusion of the 1976 season, two months after I had left school, and two weeks after Lancashire had lost a Gillette Cup final, he left the club. At the start of that season my other sporting hero, Francis Lee, the marvellous footballer, had also retired, so the summer of 1976 represented the end of childhood. It didn't seem like that at the time. But when the 1977 season began there was a small hole in my life.

It isn't always wise to meet your heroes, and I have only ever met Engineer twice, inconsequentially. No matter. That he played when he did, and in the manner he did, will always be good enough for me. Whenever I remember those days, I am nine again, and the world seems full of possibilities. Arlott was right. Engineer adorned the game more than players who ended their careers with better figures, and there's a lot to be said for being a pleasure-giver.

Those you warm to in the early days, who mould your imagination, mean the most to you, whether they were great or not. So I remain faithful to the memory of "Rookie" and recall Fitzgerald's valediction to Jay Gatsby: "So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."

This article was first published in the Wisden Cricketer

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on May 17, 2010, 12:48 GMT

    Nice somebody brought out the name of Salim Durrani as well. He was such a wonderful cricketer and i remember as a young kid watching test matches and he used to respond to the chants of six from crowd by putting the ball in the stand making the maximum noise.

  • Dummy4 on May 16, 2010, 15:25 GMT

    Wonderful writing Micheal! It hurled me back to my childhood, the glorious days of radio commentary and Farokh's near-century before lunch at Chepauk in 1967 (?) against Hall, Griffith, etc., which I so religiously recorded in one of my note books, run by run !! If I remember correctly, it was the first day of Eid Ul Fitr (the Islamic festival following the end of Ramadan) in India.

    Keep writing Micheal and thanks for your contribution. You are a joy!

  • Dummy4 on May 15, 2010, 20:34 GMT

    Rookie exuded charisma - he was a superstar in mumbai and his exploits for lancashire gave his legend an added gloss in india. he was always true to himself whatever the situation of the match - and he was a good enough batsman to open the batting against all comers with success. his opening partnership with gavaskar in the early seventies was one of the best india has had. it was his positive attitude which was so refreshing. he would have made a great captain because he was instinctive and spontaneous - when he took over from wadekar in a match against england he rotated the bowlers masterfully in short spells never allowing the opposition batsmen to settle. He was one of the first Indian cricketers to make it on foreign soil and uphold the reputation of Indian cricket and enjoyed a celebrity status which brought glamour and excitement to indian cricket.

  • nik on May 15, 2010, 17:11 GMT

    Hey I met Farookh Engineer here in Düsseldorf, Germany back in around 1994. My cricket club here had invited him as a special guest. This article confirms what my dad and uncles used to say about him. Dhoni promtes himself up the order and for good 10 overs plays dot balls and singles. Not the first time. What a shame! That's the difference between the guys like Farookh and Dhoni. I like cricketers like Farook Engineer, Rahul Dravid and many such who honour the priviledge the enjoy.

  • sajjad on May 15, 2010, 13:36 GMT

    Farookh Engineer - there was ever - only one Farookh Engineer. Hugely under appreciated and unheralded. This man was an all rounder unequaled in every sense of the word. There was NEVER one like him - you are all confused at this - are you not? OK ! Answer this question - whihc player would keep wicket all day for up to two days and then come out to OPEN the batting and bat all day making a century against the likes of Hall et al? There was ONLY ONE man that did it in the 60s and 70s - Farookh Engineer !!! He was amazed at my applaus himself when I said the same to him in Manchester at Old Trafford in 1992. He was an all rounder the likes of which there will never again be another. It is nice to see you around the pubs of UK from time to time - when ever I am in the UK. Farookh. Hope you and your family are well.

  • Dummy4 on May 15, 2010, 13:27 GMT

    Rookie Engineer was one of the mercurial cricketers who inspired Indian crickters of 70s to beleive in themselves and challenge the world. Engineer would have been a great captain for India but unfortunately wasnot fortunate to get it. In fact in the 1972-73 series against England at Kolkata Engineer lead India on a day when Wadekar was indisposed and showed his great leadership qualities. I remember also the 1974-75 test against West Indies at Delhi that Engineer was tipped to take over the captaincy from the inured captain and vice captain, Pataudi and Gavaskar respectively. But unfortunately on the day of the match the Chairman of the Selection Committee arrived and the captaincy went to Venkataraghavan. In that test in the second innings Engineer showed lot of guts and determination when after retiring being hit on the head by Andy Roberts he came back to play a magnicficient innings of 85. He showed not be judged by records but the amount of pleasure he gave to spectators.

  • Dummy4 on May 15, 2010, 12:52 GMT

    Brilliant Cricket... Just that a Lanchashirian had to like it...

  • B on May 15, 2010, 11:24 GMT

    As a youngster, I met Engineer in Madras when England toured India in 72-73 - a few years earlier, in Madras, he had the crowds in a frenzy when he whipped Hall and Griffith into a near-century before lunch - and all this without the aid of helmets and other protective gear. There was something dashing and but rarely cavalier attitude about Engineer's batting. He indeed was a reliable batsman-keeper, much like Kunderan, though purists rated Kirmani higher as a keeper. When we talk about India's wins in the early 70s, the famed spinners did play their part but so did the close-in ring of fielders, and Engineer was the inspirational leader of the group that included Solkar and Venkat. There was a story about Engineer, who lives in England, being stopped for speeding in his Mercedes - when the policeman realized his identity, he instead asked for Engineer's autograph!

  • Manasvi on May 15, 2010, 9:19 GMT

    When the Indian all time XI is announced, I'm not going to pick Dhoni. I shall either go for the mercurial Engineer or the dashing Kunderan. Two very good and attacking batsmen who were also competent wicketkeepers.

  • Kali Muthu on May 15, 2010, 7:22 GMT

    Yes, Engineer was a marvelous dasher... as an eight year old, the first ever test match I got hooked into this great game involved Engineer's exploits. It was the 1969 Kanpur test where he and Ashok Mankad pummeled the Ozzies. He scored a breezy 78 before lunch that set the tone for the Indians to come back into the series after they lost the first test..Anyhow, he was one of his kind in those days.. a great performer in all conditions not merely in the sub-continent..

  • No featured comments at the moment.