Farokh Engineer July 26, 2012

'I was born to be a one-day player'

Dashing strokemaker Farokh Engineer was a T20 cricketer years before his time. He looks back at life with India and Lancashire

My brother Darius was pivotal in my becoming a wicketkeeper. He was an offspinner and his club's wicketkeeper wasn't gathering his deliveries down the leg side. In desperation, he asked me to keep. I managed to show good anticipation to gather the ball and also made a few stumpings. From then on, there was no looking back.

After the 1967 tour of England, John Arlott wanted to see me play for his beloved Hampshire. Worcestershire and Somerset were interested too. I finally decided on Lancashire for its great history and beautiful ground.

The former British prime minister John Major has always been a great cricket lover. During a Lord's Test, I mentioned my forthcoming biography and he asked if he could have the honour of writing the foreword. I was flattered.

I came to be known as Rooky in England. Fred Trueman gave me the nickname.

I feel honoured to have been part of the Lancashire team that had such a great run. I joined Lancs in 1968, and when I left them after 1976, they had won the Gillette Cup four times and the John Player League twice. Some young, talented players who were already on the rolls, such as Peter Lever, Ken Shuttleworth and David Lloyd really blossomed and other exciting young players emerged.

I was passionate about flying since childhood. I got training and flew little Piper Cherokees or Tiger Moths. I used to fly low and dive under bridges.

My best attributes were belief in myself, and optimism.

I was the first star cricketer to come out of Mumbai's Podar college. Later Dilip Vengsarkar, Sanjay Manjrekar and Ravi Shastri followed me.

My first-class debut was a baptism by fire, for Combined Universities against the touring West Indies at Nagpur. Originally the visitors had planned to field a second string side against the students but the local mayor on the eve of the match bragged that the Universities team was stronger than the Indian Test team. So the West Indians fielded a full-strength side. [Roy] Gilchrist and [Wes] Hall were all over us. Three of our batsmen were hurt. My 29 was the joint-highest for the University side in the match, which we lost by an innings, as expected.

The role of Jack Bond as Lancashire captain was immense. He had the ability to inspire match-winning performances out of average county players. He was one of the first to use spin bowlers as an integral part of a one-day attack. He gave great attention to fielding and fitness. I had a great rapport with him.

I am proud I made significant contributions in some of India's memorable successes. My 59 in the first innings during India's first Test win in England was the team's highest in the match. In the second-innings chase, I shared a crucial partnership with [Gundappa] Viswanath. During the 1972-73 home Test series, when we beat England 2-1, I was the highest run getter on either side.

Lancashire came to be known as the Manchester United of cricket back then. Our Sunday league games were sold out not only at home but everywhere in the country.

My 109 in the third Test against the West Indies in 1966-67 turned out to be a career-defining innings. Before that I had been in and out of the Test team; I was not even considered for the first two Tests of that series. I played regularly afterwards, until my last Test - except the 1970-71 tour of West Indies.

Legendary soccer star George Best was a great friend and also my neighbour in Manchester for many years. He was very fond of curry and we often visited Asian restaurants together.

I was a Brylcreem boy, like [Denis] Compton. No Indian cricketer got endorsements before me.

I did captain my country unofficially. One of the most satisfying was during the second Test of the 1972-73 series against the MCC. At the end of the fourth day, they were chasing a target of close to 200 and were well placed at 105 for 4 with Tony Greig and Mike Denness sharing an unbeaten stand of about 90. On the morning of the last day, [Ajit] Wadekar was ill and I had to lead the side for the day almost. I set attacking fields and applied pressure. Wickets fell at regular intervals and we won an exciting low-scoring match.

Geoff Boycott once said to me, "You have more talent than me, but because of my temperament, I have made more runs." I replied, "But which of us two do people come to watch?"

Sir Don Bradman liked my attacking game. During the 1967-68 tour of Australia, I made 89 in the opening Test. Bradman visited our dressing room. He noticed I played in rubber-soled shoes and gave me a roasting, but he later drove me to his home, where I dined with the great man and also saw a slideshow of his cricketing exploits. From then, he sent me a card every Christmas with a P.S: "Hope you wear spikes these days."

It would be wrong to label the Lancashire of my time as only a great one-day outfit. We twice finished second in the county championships. On both occasions, we could have won the title but for the weather.

Cycling was a passion. I once cycled with friends from Bombay to Poona and back, around 240 miles.

The expected date of delivery for our first child coincided with the India's Lord's Test of 1967. We were staying in a hotel opposite the ground. I was in the Long Room with the Indian team to be introduced to the Queen when a telegram arrived from our hotel. Donald Carr, the assistant secretary of the MCC, read it and handed it over to the Queen. She turned to me and said, "Engineer, good news for you." I replied that I had been expecting it. "What was your wish?" she asked. I said, "I know it is a baby girl." The Queen looked puzzled. I said, "When my mother was dying, I wept at her bed. She consoled me and said, 'Farokh, I will come again in your life - as your first child.' Hence, it has to be a baby girl."

I never regretted my playing style. Geoff Boycott once said to me, "You have more talent than me, but because of my temperament, I have made more runs." I replied, "But which of us two do people come to watch?"

Sir Garry Sobers was my favourite cricketer. He was the complete package.

During my playing days, I always had a job. In Bombay, I worked for Mercedez-Benz in sales and marketing - a cushy job. After joining Lancashire, I found a winter job at Hawker Siddeley. Once my playing days were over, I ventured into business. Presently I am a brand ambassador for Jaguar and Lyca Mobile.

Of my Lancashire team-mates, I always enjoyed a special relationship with Clive Lloyd - we were often room-mates and we both loved parties. The Lancashire committee members spoke to me before signing him and I said, "You don't need to look further."

I was born to be a one-day player.

My most memorable catch came in the Lord's Test of '71 - [John] Edrich off [Bishan] Bedi. It was the last ball of the day. It pitched in the rough, took off, clipped the shoulder of Edrich's bat and hit me on my left shoulder. The ground was wet because of rain, and I was sprawled on the ground when the ball came down. I just managed to flick it up with my left foot, but there was no fielder in catching position and it was impossible for me to take the catch. I kicked it up again, regained my balance somewhat and finally managed to take the catch with a leap.

I still live in Manchester and I'm the vice-president of Lancashire. The people there loved me. I had a record benefit of £26,000.

I bagged a pair in my last Test match. [Bernard] Julien got me both times - a bowler who didn't trouble me much on the county circuit.

I really enjoyed playing limited-overs cricket with Lancashire and did my bit for the county's great successes, but there was very little international one-day cricket in my day.

I was on commentary at the1983 World Cup final for TMS. Brian Johnston asked me if the prime minister, Indira Gandhi, would declare a public holiday if India won. I said in jest that I had no doubt she would, since she was an avid TMS listener. Within minutes a message received from Mrs Gandhi's office was relayed to us - that she had heard our comments and had indeed declared a holiday. A few months later, on a visit to India, when I met Mrs Gandhi, she said, "Thanks for reminding me about the declaration of the public holiday. That will fetch me extra votes in the next election!"

My community, the Parsis, has a population of about 70,000 in India. Yet a number of Parsis have made it to the Test team. Surprisingly, there have been none after me.

Brian Statham often said that if I had kept to him all his career, he would have ended with a substantially bigger bag of wickets.

India were riding a wave in the early '70s, with three successive series wins, but it came to a halt with the disastrous 1974 tour of England. The English batsmen showed mastery over our spinners during that series. Bedi had been playing on the county circuit for last few years. More importantly, they had sorted out Chandrasekhar, who had been England's main tormentor in the previous two Test series.

I have been pulled up for speeding on Manchester's roads, but was always let off by the cops, who recognised me. One of them said, "My father would kill me if I booked you." I was never reckless but I drove fast - perhaps due to my flying instincts.

I had the wonderful experience of keeping wicket to those four fabulous spinners: Bedi, Chandra, Prasanna and Venkataraghavan. All were masters of their craft and offered a great challenge. Chandra was the most interesting. His deliveries zipped off the surface and he had a great variety - legbreak, googly, flipper, topspinner...

The essential qualities for a wicketkeeper include a sense of balance, anticipation, and confidence.

My favourite ground is the Cricket Club of India. I was brought up there and learned the game there. There used to be a reward of Rs 100 for any batsman who hit the clock tower, and I won it a few times. I also made my highest Test score in what turned out to be the last Test at the ground for 36 years.

It was a great honour to be selected for the Rest of the World three times. The selectors who named these teams included the likes of Bradman, Sir Len Hutton and Sir Frank Worrell.

T20 is great entertainment, though it can't produce genuine Test cricketers. I would have loved to play this brand of cricket. Some tell me, "You used to play T20 40 years before its invention."

Ijaz Chaudhry writes on cricket and other sports. For more about him and samples of his published work, visit www.sportscorrespondent.info

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • dummy4fb on July 27, 2012, 21:37 GMT

    I remembered reading the indian cricket board giving Farokh a hard time for not playing in the domestic competitions, even denying team selection.he was good enough to open the batting in any form of the game if he wanted to, they dont come like Farokh anymore

  • Nampally on July 27, 2012, 18:10 GMT

    It is lovely to hear from Engineer after such a long blackout. It is also nice to know that he lives in Manchester & is VP of Lancashire CC. Farookhji was a fantastic batsmen who believed in playing bright cricket & entertaining the Fans. He did so playing for India & playing for Lancashire. I watched him both in India & in England. For a WK he could really run sharp singles because he was so slim & agile. As for his WK we used to call his stumping "Bijli" - lightening. As an earlier commenter mentioned Kunderam & Engineer were 2 of the best WK India has ever produced - both similar in batting style - attack.It is unfortunate that both these guys played in a wrong era. They would have top money earners in IPL today as well as in ODI's with ideally suited style. The guys of 60's & 70's missed out monetarily. Cricketers not even half as good as Farookh are multi millionairs today. Old timers played for the love of Cricket & I salute them. Great to hear from a fantastic past legend.

  • Percy_Fender on July 27, 2012, 12:55 GMT

    To the question of John Yelton, I would like to mention that alongside Engineer, there was a Contractor as well. And some time earlier there was a Merchant, who I think was a Gujerati. Such names are common to the great Parsi community in India who also have names like Judge,Doctor,Vakil. Not to be seen as just an academic lot they also have Toddywalas and Drivers. But then even in England and Australia they have names like Lock,May Barber and Trueman.There is also a variant in Flintoff !Parsis though originally from Persia are true Nationalists having contributed to every hue of the vast Indian mosaic and cricket is no exception. My impression is that they took the names of the profession they practised because they wanted to have a new identity in their adopted land.

  • Percy_Fender on July 27, 2012, 12:41 GMT

    Engineer played Tests from '61 to '75. Budhi Kenderam played from '60 to 67. Both played the game in the same attacking way and both had the influence of Pataudi as captain. The thing with both of them was that India's opening stands used to very good and the scoring rate very good. Those days if one had to follow Test cricket, one had to listen to the AIR or the Test match special of BBC or the ABC early in the morning with the Magilvray voice so distinctive. Engineer scored only 2 centuries but the impact he made on the Indian team was immense.I saw him in the Chepauk Test between India and West Indies in '67. On the first morning against the bowling of Hall, Sobers, Gibbs and others, Faroukh went on a rampage. A century before lunch loomed when he was denied the strike for some time at 96. In those days scoring a century in a session was unheard of. His personality was so much like his game. Handsome Parsi from Bombay who could be depended upon to give India a great start.

  • pitch_it_up on July 27, 2012, 7:28 GMT

    I always liked this debonair & dashing cricketer.....heard a lot about him when growing up in 80's & 90's about his attacking game in a team that generally plays with a safety-first approach....and I still like his commentary.

  • dummy4fb on July 27, 2012, 5:21 GMT

    The best of Engineer was the 1966/67 Chepauk test Played at Madras Cricket Club Ground, Madras. Against a attack led by Hall, Griffith and Sobers! He missed a record century before lunch by 5 runs. There were enough balls to get a century before lunch but engineer disappointed us. however he went on to get a century in that match. We used to be glued to the radio and enjoyed the cricket of those days.

  • kunderanengineer on July 27, 2012, 3:02 GMT

    Wow, this takes me back over 40 years when I was an adolescent growing up in India. There was only radio, no TV and Test matches ofcourse were the only format. However. it would not be an exaggeration to suggest that Farokh Engineer was the first Twenty 20 player that India produced. Since he usually opened the innings for India, it was imperative for Indian fans that they not miss the start of India's innings because one thing was certain with Engineer- before you could blink he had already hit several boundaries. I would really be curious to know what type of strike rate he ended up with. And this aggressive style of play was even more impressive considering that he had to keep wicket as well. Thank you Mr. Engineer for all the thrills you provided me and my family over all those years. You will go down in the annals of Indian cricket not only as a great player but also as the consummate entertainer.

  • Natx on July 27, 2012, 2:43 GMT

    Loved his comments. Straight, positive and entertaining. Gave a glimpse of the man's mindset. Rewind 40 years, and add the energy factor - you will get a sense of how he scored 94 before lunch against Hall, Griffith and Sobers! Gilchrist of 60's and 70's!

  • dummy4fb on July 27, 2012, 0:46 GMT

    FAROKH was no doubt great entertainer of his Era . HE ,at times hardly scored heavily, yet as long as he was at crease it was sere treat to watch him batting ..Against visiting west Indian team in 1966-67 led by none other than sir Garfield Sobers, when he scored century in the third test at Madras it was a master piece batting display , when he went on to briskly 95 before lunch against wes HALL & others.

  • dummy4fb on July 26, 2012, 22:20 GMT

    Sure is full of himself! :)

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