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From Bombay to Bolton

engineer

I suppose that a problem recalling matters of unimportant detail is an inevitable consequence of getting older, but it can be frustrating. By way of example I have been meaning to write about Farokh Engineer for years. I can still vividly remember the excitement at learning that he was going to join Lancashire for the 1968 season, but try as might I can’t remember why that sense of anticipation was there.

I was just seven at the time, so I hadn’t seen too much cricket, and looking back through Wisden for the mid 1960s I still can’t work out what it was that gripped the imagination about Engineer, so much so that I am inclined to wonder whether it was just as simple as the exotic name. I did wonder whether I had perhaps picked up on what was going on around me and a euphoria that was sweeping through the county, but a bit of research later and I realise it can’t have been that.

The 1960s was not a great time for county cricket. Attendances were still on a decline that had begun after the great post-war boom fell back in the late 1940s, and the game was becoming ever more defensive. To try and halt both slides was a large part of the reason why for that 1968 season each of the First Class counties was permitted to sign one overseas cricketer on an immediate registration. Before that it had been necessary for a twelve month residential qualification period to be served, and that is why the great stars of the international game preferred to earn a living in the leagues rather than the County Championship.

What I found out by trawling back through books and newspapers was that in 1967 Engineer had been quite happy to sign for Lancashire and not play in 1968 at all, and thus qualify by residence. I did know that the county had been in the market for the signature of the great Garry Sobers, and I had certainly got to know all about his talents in 1966, but I thought that was all confidential stuff that only came to light years later. But the reality was that Lancashire openly courted Sobers, and Engineer was well aware he was only the second choice. In the end of course Sobers went to Nottinghamshire, and Engineer was our special registration after all.

I certainly did not know in 1968 that Engineer had begun his Test career, against England, back in 1961 when he was aged 22. He almost managed to emulate Wilfred Rhodes in that in his debut Test he batted at nine, and even slipped back to ten before that series was over. Engineer was fortunate in the timing of his rise to prominence. For some years India’s first choice ‘keeper had been Naren Tamhane, a neat and undemonstrative man. Tamhane was a competent ‘keeper but his batting was nothing special and in 1960 he had to give way to a young contemporary of Engineer. Budhi Kunderan was an aggressive and fearless batsman of the type the Indians, whose batsmen had often in the past been beaten by genuinely fast bowlers before they got out to the middle, wanted to see in their Test side.

In 1961/62 England visited India for a five Test series. It was a strong side even if it did not represent the full might of the visitors, a decision the selectors would come to regret as the hosts won 2-0. At the start of the series the home selectors decided that they would trust to Engineer’s superior wicketkeeping and he should have played in the first Test. He didn’t because of an accident in the nets on the eve of the match. Worried about an unfamiliarity with pace bowling a selection of Indian medium pacers were tasked with bowling bouncers at the batsmen from 18 yards. Engineer never really did learn to curb his penchant for the hook, and the steep bounce caught him out and he top edged a delivery into his face. Despite having stitches and the eye closed he still turned up next day hoping to play, but Kunderan got the nod.

The match was a good one for Kunderan behind the stumps, he held three catches and made two stumpings, but he scored only five with the bat so Engineer made his bow in the second Test and kept his place for the rest of the series. There were no big scores, and were never likely to be when he was batting so far down the order but he did get his first Test fifty, 65, at an important time in the first innings of the fifth Test.

After their historic win over England it was down to earth with a bump for India when they visited the Caribbean immediately afterwards. The scoreline was 5-0 to the home side and none of the Indians distinguished themselves. Engineer failed with the bat in four innings out of six in the first three Tests, each time falling victim to spin. In the second Test he scored 53 and 40. He repeatedly hooked Wes Hall, the only Indian to do so, and earned the fast bowler’s enduring respect in the process. But it wasn’t enough to hold on to his place and Kunderan came in for the last two Tests, although he achieved nothing with the bat.

India’s next Tests were against a somewhat stronger England side in 1963/64. All five matches were drawn and in the first Test Kunderan was selected and given the chance to open the batting. He scored 192 to make himself undroppable, and he added another century later in the series. He must have expected to be selected against Australia in 1964/65, but in one of the more puzzling decisions of the Indian selectors he didn’t. In fact Kunderan was not even the second choice, that position falling to Engineer. The man who played in all three Tests however was KS Indrajitsinhji, a nephew of Ranji. The Prince was a decent enough cricketer at First Class level, but was not of international calibre.

New Zealand were India’s visitors in 1964/65. Engineer was in form in the run up to the series and in fact went on to enjoy his best ever season. He was picked for the first Test at Chennai and batted at nine. India were not in great shape when he got to the wicket early on the second day with the total at 232-7. When he was dismissed just under two hours later the complexion of the game had changed. Engineer had scored 90 as he and Bapu Nadkarni added 143 for the eighth wicket. Engineer remained in the side for the the rest of the four match series, won by India as a result of a victory in the final Test, but once more Engineer failed to fully grasp his opportunity and was struggling for runs again by the end of the series.

When West Indies arrived in India in 1966/67 they were the leading side in world cricket having beaten Australia and England. The series in India consisted of three Tests and without Engineer India lost the first two by comfortable margins. Kunderan kept wicket in both, and did not let himself down, but Engineer was recalled for the dead rubber. The selectors stated reason for dropping Kunderan was that he was injured, although in fact he was not.

For the first time Engineer was picked to open the batting. There were some who wondered, Engineer himself one of them, whether perhaps he was being set up to fail, so that he could finally be consigned to history. The bizarre treatment of Kunderan can only have reinforced such a conspiracy theory, but if there were those in the corridors of power who were thinking that way the events of the Test caused them to tear up their plans and concede defeat. The match made Farokh Engineer’s reputation and news of it might well have made a contribution to the joy that his signing brought to North West England in 1968.

At the time only the illustrious trio of Donald Bradman, Victor Trumper and Charlie Macartney had ever scored a century before lunch on the first day of a Test. Engineer, despite facing an attack that consisted of Hall, Charlie Griffith, Gibbs and Sobers almost emulated them. India were 125 without loss at lunch and Engineer had 94 of them. After the interval Engineer went to a thoroughly deserved century before Sobers finally claimed him for 109. He had scored all but 36 of India’s runs at the point he was dismissed. In the Daily Telegraph Indian journalist Dicky Rutnager summed the innings up; the ebullient Engineer, who had no reputation as an opening batsman to lose, struck four after four with either a straight drive or a smart flick to mid-wicket off the toes. The headline in The Times was Engineer flays Hall and Griffith, and how – the much feared pair went for 81 in the twelve overs they bowled before lunch.

India nearly won an absorbing match, only a couple of dropped catches allowing Sobers and Griffith to hang on for an hour and a half and leave the home side three wickets short of what would have been a famous victory. If only Engineer had had an agent he might have become a wealthy man. That innings made sure he was the most marketable sportsman in India. His most famous ‘role’ was to step into Denis Compton’s shoes and rejuvenate the Indian market for Brylcreem, but he endorsed many other products. He just accepted whatever sum he was offered. It wasn’t very much in the scheme of things, but felt like a fortune to Engineer.

Logic tells me that what really grabbed my attention where Engineer was concerned was his visit to England in 1967 with the first Indian side to visit England since their 1959 predecessors were beaten 5-0. Sadly for Pataudi’s men they also lost all three of their Tests, although they could at least blame the weather, a damp first half of the season being far from what the Holy Trinity of Bedi, Prasanna and Chandrasekhar ordered. But there was a fine Test at Headingley that won the tourists many admirers. The first two days saw Geoffrey Boycott take the best part of ten hours to compile an unbeaten 246. The lack of enterprise in Boycott’s innings cost him his place and India’s 164 all out, which left them following on 386 behind, threatened a no contest. Engineer scored a brisk 42, third man out at 59.

But the visitors second innings was a different story. First of all Engineer and Ajit Wadekar put on 168 for the second wicket before Engineer was dismissed for 87. That paved the way for a fine knock from Hanumant Singh and one of the great captain’s innings from Pataudi. India’s 510 was not enough to save the game, but more than sufficient to win over the hearts and minds of the Yorkshire crowd. The second and third Tests were rather easier victories for England, and Engineer did not make any more major contributions, but he had done enough. John Arlott tried to broker a deal for him to join Hampshire, and Somerset and Worcestershire were interested too, but in the end Engineer decided to accept Lancashire’s offer despite the fact that he knew if Sobers signed he would not be playing first team cricket for a year.

So what did Lancashire supporters get for 1968, and the following eight seasons? First of all they were able to watch one of the best wicketkeepers in the game. At a time when ‘keepers generally tended towards the efficient and unobtrusive Engineer was something very different. From the moment that he walked onto the field, using something between a mince and a swagger, the crowds attention was captured. Tall for a ‘keeper Engineer was always exuberant, almost always smiling, and most definitely a show pony. There were some memorable and spectacular catches and stumpings, and everything Engineer did was done with a flourish. Sometimes he made his work look more difficult than it really was, and unlike men like Alan Knott and Bob Taylor who almost never made mistakes, there was the occasional lapse. But Engineer was box office, and hero worshipped by a generation of Lancashire schoolboys.

Engineer’s approach to batting was much the same as to his keeping, but there was a frustrating lack of consistency about him. Lancashire’s near monopoly of the 60 overs per side Gillette Cup, and their success in the 40 overs per side Sunday League meant that the county spent more than their fair share of time on the television. I also used to get to matches whenever I could, but I never saw a major innings from Engineer. It was always the same. He would unfurl a couple of those booming drives, or one or two beautifully timed leg side shots, and then get himself out. But despite flattering to deceive so often his popularity never waned. There was a certain irony attached to Engineer’s final season with the county, the long hot summer of 1976. Results wise it was a major disappointment for Lancastrians. It was Engineer’s benefit season as well, usually a distraction for players, but despite all that, and being 37, it proved to be his best season for Lancashire with the bat. There was a sad ending however. Despite a wretched summer in the other competitions the Red Rose had got through to Lord’s for another Gillette final. They lost, badly, and worse still Engineer’s last ever important innings for the county was a duck. There was to be a similar ending to his Test career.

Before the start of his first summer with Lancashire Engineer, his place at last certain, travelled with India to Australia and New Zealand where four Tests were played in each country. There was a 4-0 defeat in Australia, but there was promise of better things on the way. Three of the defeats were comfortable, but none overwhelming, and in the third Test the visitors got within 39 runs of chasing down a fourth innings target of 395. In New Zealand the Indians won their first ever series overseas, 3-1. Engineer was one of four Indians to average more than 40 and only Wadekar scored more runs, and then by just seven.

The following season saw return visits to the sub-continent by Australia and New Zealand. The series with New Zealand was shared 1-1, but once again Australia were too strong. It might have been different however. Had Ian Redpath not led a recovery from 24-6 to 153 in the second innings of the final Test the series might well have been squared. Engineer had his moments but was not as successful as he had been, and in that final Test against Australia he was dropped down to the middle order. His days of opening in Tests seemed to be over.

India’s next Tests were in the Caribbean in 1970/71. The Indians won the series 1-0 and began a rapid ascent to the top of world cricket, but there was no Engineer. Some sources said he was unavailable, but that wasn’t true. Engineer travelled to India and was most certainly expecting to make the trip to the Caribbean. As far as he was concerned politics were behind his omission. His presence in county cricket was not welcomed, and there was pressure from the south of the country for the selection of Pochiah Krishnamurthy. A remarkable debut series from Sunil Gavaskar was the catalyst for India’s victory. Krishnamurthy kept wicket competently enough, but he wasn’t as good as Engineer, and he scored just 33 runs in the five Tests.

The selectors acknowledged their mistake after the tour by agreeing to Engineer playing in the Tests in England in 1971 despite his commitments to Lancashire meaning that he would not be able to join the tour full time. It was a historic series that culminated in India’s famous win at the Oval. England grumbled because they felt they should have won the first two Tests. It is certainly the case that rain saved India from defeat in the second Test but although the scorecard makes it appear India were clinging on for a draw in the first Test arguably they should have won that one, so in truth the victory was thoroughly deserved.

There was an incident in the first Test at Lord’s that perfectly illustrated Engineer’s wicketkeeping. The last delivery of the fourth day, from Bedi, took the shoulder of John Edrich’s bat and thudded into Engineer giving him no chance to complete a catch. An accomplished footballer in his youth Engineer managed to kick the ball up before making the catch. In fact on Engineer’s account he had to kick the ball twice before diving to cling on, but sadly the only footage of that series that I can find in the public domain is of the historic Oval Test, so with my own memory failing me and the photograph of the dismissal in The Cricketer suggesting Engineer might just have embellished the tale a tad we will have to wait for Auntie Beeb to open up her archives before exactly what happened can be revealed. In the autumn of his life Engineer’s own recollection of his finest moments does seem to gild the lily somewhat – another example relates to that century he almost scored before lunch. Engineer maintains he went to his century with a six from Lance Gibbs, although other available evidence suggests otherwise.

Returning to the Oval in 1971 Engineer played a pivotal role. England won the toss and batted and totalled 355. By the time Engineer arrived at the crease India were 125-5 with the familiar long tail. He and Eknath Solkar then added 93 and with a few judicious shots Syed Abid Ali and Srinivas Venkataraghavan lifted their total to 284. Engineer’s contribution was an invaluable 59. He took less than two hours over the innings but most uncharacteristically there was not a single boundary. At the time it was the highest individual score without a four or six in Test history.

In the England second innings Bhagwat Chandrasekhar worked his magic as for once in the series the home side’s lower order did not rescue them and India’s victory target was an eminently achievable 173. India got there, but amidst rising tension in the sub-continent and in Lancashire (where almost the whole county were willing the Indians on) they took 101 overs to do so. Engineer came in with the score at 134-5 and the usually highly entertaining Gundappa Vishwanath seemingly becalmed. Engineer took the game by the scruff of the neck and 50 minutes later India were home. Engineer had scored 28 of the 40 runs, and this time there were three fours in one of the more important cameos the game has seen.

Engineer topped the averages in that historic series, and then did so again in the following series in 1972/73. The Indians were disappointed that Ray Illingworth, John Snow and Geoff Boycott all gave the trip a miss, but they still beat the side that Tony Lewis led. In the fifth Test, restored once more to the top of the innings, Engineer made his highest Test score, 121. Long time cricket correspondent of The Times and future editor of Wisden John Woodcock wrote that he used his bat like a cutlass.

India were back in England in 1974, and Engineer sat proudly at the front of the batting averages for a third consecutive time, but the series result was very different, a 3-0 defeat. India lost all the Tests heavily. Engineer’s best innings was 86, once again as opener in the second Test, but he could contribute nothing to India’s depressing second innings of 42, and a defeat by an innings and 285.

The Test match career of Farokh Engineer wound up back home in India in 1974/75 against West Indies. The visitors were not quite the side they were to become, but were on the way up. It was an odd series. West Indies won the first two Tests by convincing margins and, after the Indians drew level, won the fifth very comfortably as well. Engineer, who opened throughout with Gavaskar was India’s second highest run scorer, but was well down in the averages and, in the final Test, he went out in the worst possible way with a pair. The series had also seen him treated shabbily by the selectors once more, and his retirement from international cricket came as no surprise.

India’s skipper in the first Test was Pataudi, but he was injured for the second. Gavaskar was then named as his replacement before he had to pull out as well. Engineer was the obvious replacement. He had always wanted to lead his country and was named in the press as the skipper. Something wasn’t quite right however and shortly before he was due to go out for the toss with Clive Lloyd Venkat suddenly appeared to lead the side. As noted the West Indians won easily, and Venkat played no part in the rest of the series, but Engineer hid his disappointment well, his second innings 75 being the best score by an Indian in the match.

Prior to his moving to England Engineer had worked for Tata in a sales and marketing role. He hadn’t had to work too hard but had showed some flair for the role and when he left the game, rather than compete with many others for the relatively few and not particularly well paid roles within the game, he started his own textile business. Engineer made a great success of the venture, despite at one stage losing a great deal of money in the collapse of Bank of Credit and Commerce International in 1991. In addition to his business activities ‘Rooky’ has been a regular guest in commentary boxes throughout the world and remains one of the best loved characters ever to play for Lancashire.

 

 

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