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Exclusive Interview With Farokh Engineer: Polly Umrigar Was One Of The Most Influential Figures In My Life

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Farokh Engineer

Farokh Engineer is definitely a man who has two names…the one that he was born with and the other one that he made for himself in the field of cricket. Success is something earned and worthwhile, it is no accident. In fact it is all about hard work, perseverance, learning, sacrificing and most of all loving what you do. One of the most attacking and fearless cricketers of his times, Farokh Engineer the mighty wicket keeper batsman played 46 Tests and 5 ODIs for India. On the other hand he also played marvellously well for the then Bombay team in Ranji Trophy, Lancashire in England and Rest of the World X1. He even modelled back then for the famous cream called ‘Brylcream’ which instantly became a hit product amongst people.

More importantly he is an amazing person, a fantastic world class cricketer, a happy go lucky individual, a humorous and flamboyant personality and more importantly an encyclopaedia on cricket. When you meet such a great gentleman, you can’t help but want to be near him, sharing in his contagious positive energy. He is an exceptional speaker who keeps you on the edge of your seat when he is sharing his thoughts and experience. CricFit.com author Binaisha M. Surti was honoured to have met and interviewed this legendary cricketer and Padma Shri awardee Farokh Engineer at the Cricket Club of India, Brabourne Stadium. She was taken into a different world all together, as he spoke to herabout his initial days in cricket, experience of playing with a bunch of talented Parsi cricketers, his close affiliation with Indian Captain M. S. Dhoni, an evening at Sir Don Bradman’s house and lots more.

Initially wanting to become a pilot, Farokh Engineer speaks about how he was bitten by the cricketing bug…

Farokh: I was always very interested in flying and wanted to become a pilot but the biggest thing called cricket got in the way of it. I played for my collage and we had a very good team back then. Initially just like any other youngster I too played gully cricket with a tennis ball and a sponge ball. l even smashed quite a few windows, he said with a big laugh.My parents always encouraged me to play well and in fact, they very sweetly would always pay for the windows I broke… I started playing inter-collegiate, then played for the university, followed by Ranji Trophy and then finally progressed to playing for India.  My mother was against the idea of me becoming a pilot as I was very reckless.

“Shadow Practise” becoming an integral part while training as there were no coaches…

Farokh: There was no coaching at that time and I used to shadow practise in front of the mirror. That helped me in a big way. I further would try and hit the ball on the terrace, so that is how I developed my ability to hit sixes.I played T20 cricket in those years, he quipped.I even got a century in 46 balls playing Vs the West Indies. Talking about equipment’s in the olden days, batswere not as good as the ones that cricketers use today. With today’s bats even edges go for sixes. During our time, we had a sweet spot where we would use and try and hit sixes over the park. Helmets too were unheard of when we played the sport, but today they are an essential part of the game.

The great man taking to wicket keeping…

Farokh: Wicket-keeping for me started in the Dadar Parsi Colony team, my brother encouraged me to take it up. My brother Darius played for Mysore in Ranji Trophy. He was a brilliant cricketer and an off spinner. He spun the ball so viciously that his fingers used to bleed. He inspired me to take up the game. The wicket-keeper back then would never even try and stop the ball down leg side. In the first match that I kept wickets I was involved in two leg side stumping’s which was absolutely unheard of during those days. I was very fortunate to have a good eyesight and reflexes which one needs for becoming a good wicket-keeper.

former Test player Farokh Engineer with Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni shares a light moment (Pic Source: PTI)
former Test player Farokh Engineer with Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni shares a light moment
(Pic Source: PTI)

Close affiliation with Indian Captain M. S. Dhoni…

Farokh: I have a very close affiliation with Dhoni. If he sees me on the ground he will come running to me. I also gave him a lot of tips and today he is an exceptional wicket keeper. I share a very good rapport with Dhoni and he has always been a very close friend of mine.

His mother meant the world to him and was extremely close to Farokh Engineer…

Farokh: My mother meant everything to me. I worship her along with God. Recalling an incident when I was playing a game in Rajkot. I got the news of my mother’s deteriorating health… I had to immediately leave for Mumbai…in fact I was batting at that time and abandoned my innings half way, during the tea interval. Literary in my cricketing gear I went straight to the Ahmedabad airport. The flight was full and the pilot announced that Farokh Engineers mother was ill and if anyone could give their seat. Every passenger offered to give me their seat… Further after landing I rushed straight to my mother and was with her during the entire night. I was in tears sitting by her bedside. At that time she woke up and told me not to cry and further stated that she would come back as my first child. That is how my first daughter is named Minnie after my mother. I knew that I would get a daughter as ‘The Queen’ gave me the news at Lords.

Difficulty of finding a place in the power packed Bombay team as most of the players were already Test Cricketers…

 

Farokh: It was more difficult to get into the Bombay Ranji Team, than to get into the Indian Team. Bombay had Tamhane as their wicket-keeper and he would play for India too, so to get into the team I had to dislodge the Indian wicket-keeper. I played for India and Bombay more or less during the same time. Tamhane was supposed to be a very safe wicket-keeper, while I took wicket-keeping to a different level. I used to dive here and there, saving important runs for my team.

Further, it was a wonderful experience playing for Bombay in Ranji Trophy. I played under my hero, Polly Umrigar. To play along side him, share the dressing room with a man of his stature and finally all of his experiences too… was very special. He was a great captain and one of the most influential figures in my life. I looked up to Polly Umrigar as a great person and the best captain that I have played under.

Playing for the Lancashire Club along with the likes of Clive Lloyd and David Lloyd…

Farokh: I was the first Indian to be approached by four English counties- Somerset, Worcestershire, Hampshire and Lancashire. It indeed was a very proud moment. I signed up for Lancashire…and next year Clive Lloyd joined in and came with me and what a great partnership we had. We won everything in sight. I enjoyed my cricket immensely, when that happens one is more relaxed and can give a lot enjoyment to the spectators.

Appreciation from J.R.D. Tata at the Brabourne Stadium…

Farokh: After I scored a century on this very ground, the CCI (points in the exact direction of the pitch behind where the interview was conducted)and J.R.D. Tata was sitting in the Governors Pavilion in a white safari suit. As I was coming after scoring a century, he came and embraced me in front of the whole crowd. Then in the dressing room everyone was very happy with my performance. Later as I sat with a cold towel on my head with my pads on, I felt someone taking off my pad buckles…and it was none other than J.R.D.Tata himself. He told me that he would like to have lunch with me at Bombay House after the Test Match and I was more than happy to say yes. These experiences are cherished forever, he shared with a big smile on his face.

Playing with a bunch of very talented Parsi Cricketers in the team was a whole lot of fun…A sneak peek about the personalities of fellow team mates Nari Contractor, Polly Umrigar and Rusi Surti…

Farokh: We were four Parsis playing in the Test team and that was a huge thing. I remember a function was organized for us in Nargol. From the station we were taken in an open truck with flowers. The reception which we got was so warm. It was an evening that I would never forget. Parsis from all over Gujarat had come there and it was a unique occasion where all four of us were felicitated. It was indeed a memorable day and it is a proud feeling to be a Parsi.

Polly Umrigar was a practical joker and he used to play a lot of pranks on me when we shared a room while Nari Contractor was more on the serious side but is an exceptional person and an outstanding captain. Rusi Surti was fun to be with and we would call him professor.

 

Farokh Engineer stumps Geoff Boycott in the 1967 Edgbaston Test (Pic Source: Getty Images)
Farokh Engineer stumps Geoff Boycott in the 1967 Edgbaston Test
(Pic Source: Getty Images)

Tips for wicketkeepers by the all- time great keeper himself …

Farokh: Each wicket-keeper has his own style. Wicket-keeping is all about individual brilliance, it is the reflexes that matter. One needs to follow certain techniques like you have to rise with the ball and watch it right until it comes to you. The sixth sense is very important here…it plays a big role during leg side gathering. It is all pure anticipation. Enjoy it, practise hard and believe in yourself.

As so many youngsters are inspired by him, he talks about who his inspiration was…

Farokh: Both my parents and my brother Darius always stood by my side and were my biggest inspiration, supporting me through out. You set your own targets and goals. I was never born with a silver spoon, so I had to work hard and build my own destiny.

An evening at Sir Don Bradman’s house…

Farokh: Once during a match at Adelaide Oval, I was run out in both innings wearing rubber sole shoes, so Sir Don Bradman came up to me later in the dressing room and asked why I was wearing those shoes. I tried and explained to him as to why I was wearing them, but he would not take anything for an answer. The next thing he asked me what I was doing that evening. I was so nervous at that time, I landed up saying nothing. He invited me over to his house. He came to pick me up at the given time, sharp 7:30. I was the only one there invited, as he was present along with his wife and son. We were served a vegetarian meal. I was looking to have beer but instead was given carrot juice. Then he had a little projector on the wall and he showed me an hour of his various innings and I was left in awe. I had a lovely and most unforgettable evening at Sir Don Bradman’s house.

Spending his time today and contribution towards the game of cricket…

Farokh: I play a lot of ‘bridge’, it keeps the mind active and young. It is a very addictive game. Earlier I was a match referee for the IPL and did commentary too. Today it will be great to see more women cricket commentators, he said. I am a big foodie too and my favourite is the Parsi dish ‘Dhandal and Kolmi No Patio’. I miss all the Parsi food in England.

An amusing incident at a wedding…

Farokh: I was attending a wedding at the Colaba agiary and later was sitting for dinner. During that time various people were coming to shake hands and meet me. This one particular gentleman came and instead of shaking hands he just stood there in front of me and refused to move ahead while the line was getting longer and longer behind him. He asked if I recognised him and just to make him happy I said yes. All this was happening while I was trying to enjoy my lovely meal. He wouldn’t let me eat until I told l him where we met the previous time. Then finally he said, don’t you remember we met fifty years ago and I asked you for an autograph, he recalled with a smirk on his face.. Now a day’s everyone wants selfies rather than autographs.

Olden days of the team without supports staff and physiotherapists…

Farokh: Back then there was no support staff nor masseurs. We would catch a local masseur to come and give us a massage. There were no professionals back then.

Current favourites in the shortest format of the game from team India.

Farokh: Virat Kohli has been outstanding currently and he is in exceptional form off late. Dhoni too is a very good T20 player. Every year you find a new hero. Some of the Indian youngsters who come in carve a niche for themselves instantly.

Memorable moments which will be treasured forever…

Farokh: I consider myself very privileged to have met so many personalities for the world of sports. I met Mohammed Ali, he gave me his book and jokingly punched me. Pele, the great footballer stayed at my house. Jeffery Archer the English author is one of my dearest friends who sends me all his books. I met the queen many times and have been very fortunate to have met Nelson Mandela too. I have created a memorabilia room with all the memories back home.

Some great anecdotes…

Farokh: At school one of the teachers would throw the duster at any child talking in the class. Shashi Kapoor was with me in school and since then we have been best of friends.  Once he was caught talking in class, so the duster came flying at him. I stretched my hand out and caught it inches away from his face, thus saving him from the duster. I always joke with Shashi that had I not saved you from it, you would have ended up getting villainous roles in movies. We always have a laugh about it.

The second thing I remember, I was sitting in the east stand in this very stadium (Brabourne Stadium) on my brother’s back. At that time I saw Dennis Compton fielding and called him. He had just opened a pack of chewing gum. He looked and asked me if I wanted some chewing gum…as a young child I was very nervous to speak. The next moment he threw it to me and I caught it. I did not eat it, instead I saved it for months together as a prized possession.

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